I can’t tell you how many mission and vision statements I’ve helped craft in my time as a consultant. The first part of building the foundation of good structure is to know what you’re doing with your time. So, when I do structure checks with the companies I work with, often what they need is a completely new mission statement or a refresh on their current one.

If you Google “mission statement” you get just under 4 million hits. There are lots of opinions about what a mission statement is and what makes a good or bad one. Often when I work with clients I have to help them unlearn the old or outdated notions of what a mission statement is so we can move forward with what I think it actually should be.

In short, a mission statement is the reason why you exist and a rubric by which you can measure all actions your organization takes. Theoretically, once you have achieved your mission, your company no longer needs to exist.

My favorite example of a mission statement is Disney’s: “To make people happy.”

It’s clear what they are doing and if all people are happy they don’t have a need to exist. If they aren’t sure if they should make limited edition Lumiere pins for the new release of Beauty and the Beast, all they have to do is ask “Would this make people happy?” If the answer is yes, then they do it!

Often times my clients get very hung up on the idea of external perceptions of a mission statement. Is the language accessible? What if we use a term only we within the company understand? Is it too long? Too short?

Here is what I tell all of them: Focus on making an internal statement first. Make it so everyone can understand what they are doing as that is actually how you’re going to have a helpful mission statement.

Anything can be put through the marketing machine to make it more palatable to your consumers including your mission statement. But what you make first and foremost should be something that everyone within the company can use and turn to to make sure they’re doing the job they’re supposed to be doing.

Without a mission statement, companies are rudderless. I have yet to meet a company who was operating without a clear mission who was…well, operating. Most of them are plagued with inaction because they have no idea what they are doing and all the people within the company are moving in different directions.

Mission statements direct energy and attention. They are the rails on which your train can move. Imagine trying to move a train anywhere without tracks. That’s what a company without a mission statement is like.

For some companies, the mission statement is wildly outdated with the practices of the company. Over time companies shift and grow and change and sometimes what the mission was originally outlining doesn’t apply anymore. In that case, a rewrite is totally appropriate.

Psychologist Esther Perel talks about how over the course of a marriage, couples will actually have several marriages as defined by major shifts in the way they have to function as a couple. I think the same applies to long-lasting organizations. Most will go through multiple iterations and the key to success is identifying when those changes have happened and updating accordingly.

The transition into a new year is always a good time for self-examination. It’s a healthy practice to examine the foundations of a company and assess whether pruning or editing needs to happen. With a refreshed mission or a re-certificaton of the old one, new tracks can be laid to ensure that the future of the company is progressing in a way that will create success.