MISSION POSSIBLE: How to Write a Mission StatementPosted 2/2/2007
By Deb Van Batenburg, AAM
p> In the course of running a business, there are highs and lows, periods of great growth and periods so slow that you park your own car and your employees' cars on the lifts so you feel busy!
In those slow times you might ask yourself, "Why does this shop exist?" or "What can I add to my business to make things different?" In productive, profitable times, it is good to ask yourself if you are staying focused and on track. A good mission statement can guide you in both situations. A mission statement can be a helpful tool in your management toolbox.
Steps to writing a mission statement
What is a mission statement? It is a statement created by you (or by you and your staff) that covers three aspects of how you think about your business. There are many resources to help you write a mission statement if you don't have one. They are listed at the end of this article. Several different formulas exist to help you get your most important objectives into your mission statement. The three-step plan presented here is just one model, and an easy one to use.
Step 1: Brainstorm. Brainstorming or "mind mapping" are required as the first step. Think about why you created your business. What about it did you think was most important? What difference are you trying to make?
Step 2: Who do you want to serve? Specifically defining "who" will help you in being clear about how to promote yourself and your company.
Step 3: How do you want to define the relationship between your shop and your customers? How do you want your company to feel? The relationship is about your business. The relationship can be about a team, a group of qualified auto professionals, a committed staff of techs and managers or a staff of connected, committed individuals. The relationship part should include the staff because the staff will be carrying out the mission statement.
After you spend some time with these three questions, you can begin to formulate a precise statement. Its preciseness is what will guide your actions. It will guide your business plan. It will guide who you hire and who you serve. Business plans can change, the culture can change, your ads will change and so will your staff. But if you do the work to create a solid, truthful mission statement, it will never change. Beckley Alley, a business development specialist and colleague of mine, adds: "If you find yourself avoiding the work necessary to create this tool, think of it as an organizing project. You are creating a platform that will serve as the foundation to build your marketing and advertising. You are organizing for your future."
Sandy Buerk, co-owner of St. Marys Auto Body, an ASA member shop in St. Marys, Pa., echoed these same sentiments. Buerk said, "Every time you have a business decision to make, you have to have a touchstone, a guide to help you. I believe everyone needs to sit down and figure out exactly why you did this. Write down how you felt when you decided to start your business. It is so tempting to become a chameleon and try to be everything to everyone. If you do that, you end up somewhere else, being something else ... not what you wanted to be. The time, effort and work you put into creating your mission statement is one solid thing you can do for your business. Once you do it, everyone can see who you are."
I think the mission statement of St. Marys is a good example of what the work we are describing can produce. With its permission, here is its mission: To provide the residents of Elk and surrounding counties with superior auto body and collision repair by a staff of happy professionals who take pride in not only the job they do but in the company that they work for. We will settle for no less than 100 percent customer satisfaction and we will realize our vision as a team."
This statement covers all three steps and is specific in stating who they are, who they will serve and the relationship. Buerk was clear that they stand behind this statement, and it is proudly displayed so everyone can see it. When interviewing a potential staff member, the mission statement is a key factor in hiring.
In running Van Batenburg's Garage, the mechanical shop that my husband, Craig, and I ran for more than 25 years, the mission statement was a guiding force when the market began to change and a related business presented itself to my husband and me. We were once offered a small franchise with the sales pitch that it "could easily run out of our existing shop using all of our current resources." From interviewing other shop owners for this management piece, I know this is not an uncommon situation. Adjunct product opportunities arise, and it is always a question of how an opportunity may complement your business or serve your customers in a new way. Changing or adding to a business is a hard decision.
For Van Batenburg's Garage, we used our mission statement as the guide to whether we should add something new. By using this valuable tool, we were able to see that adding a new aspect to the business had nothing to do with what we were about and who we wanted to serve; in fact, it would end up taking away from the purpose we had defined for ourselves.
Steve Johnson, owner of Number One Tire and Service in Warwick, R.I., said he went to a Parts Plus management seminar when he first decided to buy his current business. The seminar encouraged writing a mission statement. He knew at the end of the seminar that he would do the work to write one. Today he uses it as a guide to serving his customers, promoting his warranty and keeping his employees focused on respecting customers' cars. His company is all about fulfilling his customers' needs. Johnson also added a good point about how to always use your mission statement: "Bring your staff together and review the mission statement," Johnson said. "Reinforce why we are here and how we should be here everyday, by reading and discussing it."
Richard Gaudette of Double Eagle Communication, who has been an AMI instructor, said: "It doesn't matter if you are a one-person business or a large shop with multiple locations. It is still essential to know how you want your business to look, and where you want to focus your energy. He recently worked with a dealership representing several makes of cars. The key question he used in defining the business was, "Does every activity you are doing in the business serve what you started out to do?"
I think that is a practical way to get started on this process. There is no right or wrong way to begin. Just begin. Buy some pizza and sit down with your staff. If you can't imagine who to ask for help, bring it to your ASA chapter meeting. The benefit of other shop owners' insights will help you see your own priorities more clearly. Don't rush the process because it's not about the words, but about what you truly believe in and want everyone connected to your business to believe in.
Take advantage of the significant management training offered by your Automotive Service Association (ASA), management articles, Automotive Management Institute (AMI) classes, the variety of training opportunities offered by ASA at its mechanical and collision shows, and its new Keep Educating Yourself and Staff (KEYS) training program. They can help redefine or fine-tune your business.
All of these things can help formulate a mission statement. The results are worth the work: An improved business focus, a great guideline for teamwork and an enhanced image to your customers and your community.
Steps to Creating a Mission Statement
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