To Write a Great Mission Statement, Find a Mission Worth Doing

We’re Knights Circle and by most accounts, we’re the largest single-site, off-campus, student housing facility in the country with over 50 team members managing 2,532 bedrooms.

For the last year we've been discussing our Mission and who we want to be as a team. What’s the imprint of our collective selves and what words do we want to live by, faithfully? It’s not an easy question and it’s taken us the better part of a year, with regular meetings, to arrive at this:

Yes, we know there’s two “Make” at the bottom of the statement. We caught it when going through the final draft. I like the irony though. It’s a constant reminder that no matter how a thing appears to be perfect, it’s worth taking a detailed look at, lest we forget something huge.

A few thoughts relating to our mission statement and how we went into the process of creating it:

It’s focused: We wanted something that wasn't too long or too all encompassing — if you have five priorities, you have no priorities. We wanted to focus on systems because we all could and everyone had skin in that game. From the bottom up, our organization has an interest in making sure our systems work properly every time. Our clients’ satisfaction is directly wrapped up in our systems, as are our front line team members. If things work right, you’re generally happy with the service — both inside and outside the operation.

It’s not permanent: I think too often people tend to assume that a mission statement needs to be god speaking for all time. Not so. It’s a living document, much closer to a constitution — this is how we’re assembled and for what purpose. If we no longer feel as though this speaks to our highest purpose, and there’s another revelation that we want to enshrine, then change it we will. The good news is we don’t need anything as unwieldy as a continental congress to do it.

It advises action: A mission statement that can’t help guide your choice in actions isn't worth the time it takes to read it. If we’re going to say that we trust everyone implicitly, what’s that look like in action? Are there things we’re doing now that suggest we don’t trust people? For example, some managers have required doctor’s notes for absent employees who've called out for appointments. Requiring the note says fully “look, we don’t really believe you and we want to see proof — we don’t trust you and we have to protect ourselves from you.” That’s not at all the message we want to send, so we stop doing it. The same with our clients — if they want to switch rooms due to an unsolvable roommate dispute, requiring the jumping through of hoops for documentation in order to offer it, it says “We don’t believe you and we don’t trust you. You’re trying to get over on us and we’re not going to have it.” That was never the intention of course, but that’s the resulting feeling to the client.

It’s honest: How many times have you looked at a company’s stated mission only to shake your head? The soaring platitudes are exhausting and immediately erode whatever trust you may have had. If an organization can’t be honest with themselves, how can they be honest (consistently, institutionally) with anyone else? We wanted to say something we all believed in and that we all wanted to live by. The best parts of US is our ability to work together and our shared desire to provide a great experience. We were honest with each other that while we’re pretty damn good at this thing, we’re not perfect and we’d like to get closer to that. Breaking it down we realized focusing our energies on perfecting our systems would have a ripple effect positively touching every other aspect of our business; Happier clients, happier Team, and more success.

We started with Why: A giant hat tip to Mr. Simon Sinek for his inspirational TED talk. If you’re not familiar, I can’t implore you enough to check out his work (Talks, books, consulting services, etc…) as he’s directly responsible for how we chose to approach this formulation. In short, Sinek advises that great organizations start with Why they do things, then How, then What. Most though do it the other way around and thus get it all wrong, eliminating any of the inspiration and identity that could be had between the client and the company.

WHY: We abhor needless complication. We like things to work seamlessly. We think we can simplify things better than anyone else because we understand why things work the way they do and we constantly seek to improve them.

HOW: Because we trust each other, and our clients, we’re able to be honest about our business and our shortcomings in our systems. We strive to fix our systems to eliminate inherent weak-spots where things can break down.

WHAT: An exceptional student housing experience. This starts with everything working the way it should. The exceptional part is that we’re also exceedingly happy people who love what they do and each other. Since we work in a system that values people and making things work, we've got lots of goodwill in our hearts to treat you like a rock star and to go out of our way for you. We’re not scared of you, or hiding from you — we want to delight you.

We think this should be a good overall statement for this coming year and I’m impressed with how the team has taken to it with enthusiasm. I’m confident that a year from now, we’ll be writing a different version that recognizes our shifting focus while retaining our core Why, and that’s how it should be. Involvement breeds commitment, and that’s one thing we have plenty of.

What’s your mission? How did you get there? Does it still serve you and your team?

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