Unlocking your Engineering Career Potential
One of the best pieces of career advice that I have ever heard is to treat your career as a company, of which you are the CEO. And like any company, your career will need a guiding principle that will help you stay focused on your purpose. Companies today would not think of operating without a mission statement to guide them. However, too many of us skip this critical aspect of running our own careers.
What is a Mission Statement?
A mission statement is a formal summary of the goals and values of a company, organization or individual. Ideally, a mission statement is so core to the organization’s purpose and focus that it remains unchanged over time.
To be clear, a mission statement is different than a vision statement. A vision statement describes your aspirational goals, outlining where you want to be in the future. A mission statement defines the purpose and primary objectives related to customer needs and team values.
My vision statement is “Engineers with Impact”. This vision statement, while heartfelt and aspirational, is somewhat vague and immeasurable. While my vision is something toward which I am constantly striving, it does not do much for me strategically. Doesn’t say how or why or what I am going to do. That’s why I also need a mission statement. Similarly, your mission statement should be well defined and set clear expectations for yourself.
Why is having a Mission Statement Important?
So what is the value of having a mission statement? Properly written mission statements:
- Provide direction
- Clarify priorities
- Identify served markets
The mission statement for a company guides the day-to-day operations and decision-making of the organization. It helps in planning and “rallying the troops” around common goals. The mission statement helps members of the organization get on the same page on what they should do and how they should do it.
Similarly, your personal mission statement should guide your day-to-day decisions. It should help with your career and life planning (as much as we can plan life!) and “rally” your actions around your core purpose.
What are the Components of an Effective Mission Statement?
My mission is to help engineers improve their impact through leadership and professional development.
Let’s break that down and take a closer look at this statement and why it is an effective personal mission statement.
“My mission is…”
This simple opening creates a strong foundation. It is not vague. It is concrete. It is definitive. I am not saying “I want to…” or “I hope to….” I am saying to all that hear it that it is my mission – what I am doing, not just a dream for the future.
Now this is a little vague. But that is intentional. This establishes the what of my mission One important aspect of a mission statement is that it is brief. It is also important that it be dynamic. For me, I want to help engineers in a variety of ways – through blog articles, through workshops, through online courses.
Keeping these details out of the mission, I am able to keep my personal mission statement both dynamic and brief enough to continue with me no matter what I am doing. If I were to include those details it would be too long and would need updating as the trends and needs of the clients change.
It also establishes some boundaries for me. It can be easy to want to be everything for everyone. But in your career, this is a mistake. By being everything to everyone, you do not establish yourself as an expert. And often, the tasks that others don’t want to do get dumped on you. Now, I am not saying that you should never do anything “outside of your job description”. What I am saying is that it is important to understand your primary role and how you contribute.
What is my role? My role is to help. My role is not to job hunt. My role is not to create opportunities. My role is not to provide technical engineering guidance, like when I was a Subject Matter Expert. My role IS to help you be more effective, to help you engineer with impact.
This one word identifies the markets served. This establishes the who. I am not focusing my attention on all professionals. Or nurses. Or recent college graduates.
By narrowing in on who I want to help, it allows me to cater my services and efforts to ensure they are helpful and pertinent for engineers.
“…improve their impact…”
This portion of the mission statement is important because it establishes the result of my work. This establishes the why. Note that it is the “why” for the audience. It is not the “why” for me. It also helps me focus on the benefit for my clients – what’s in it for them – why it is important.
This is critical because it helps drive my decision making. Is this task I am about to do going to help engineers improve their impact? If yes, great – continue on. If not, why am I doing it? Sometimes there are other things that need happen in business, but if there is not a strong correlation to your mission and the impact on your audience, then why do it?
“…through leadership and professional development.”
This is the how of my personal mission statement. It shows the ways that I will fulfill the mission. There are many different ways that you can accomplish a goal. For me, I could help engineers improve their effectiveness through high-quality engineering support. By identifying the basic way that you will accomplish your mission, you are letting your audience know how you will fulfill your mission.
As you can see from my example, there are several key elements of an effective personal mission statement: who you are going to serve, what you are going to do, why those you serve will benefit and how you’ll accomplish it. Those elements, stated as simply as possible, will provide you with direction, clarify your priorities, and identify with whom you are going to work.
How to craft your own purpose-filled personal mission statement
Now you know all the parts, but now you have to actually draft the parts and pull it together. But don’t worry – I have broken it down into the easy steps below. Or better yet, download the Mission Statement Development Workbook, and work along with me!
Step 1 – Identify the Who
This seems like an obvious task, but sometimes this can be tricky. If you have clearly defined customers that you work with, then the who you serve should jump out at you. A couple of caveats to consider:
- This is usually NOT your company.
- This is usually NOT your manager or employees that report to you.
- If there is a hierarchical relationship that requires you to do what you are doing, usually those are not the folks that should benefit most from your work.
- This is sometimes NOT the customers of your company.
- Unless you are in a direct customer facing role, then your work should be directed by different priorities.
Let me give you an example. When I worked as a Cycle Chemistry Subject Matter Expert for a power company, it would have been easy to say that our electric and gas customers were the people I was serving. However, this would have meant my daily activities being directed by customer needs – bill pay or disputes, service turn-on and shut-off, etc. Not my forte, skill set, or organization.
I could have said that my manager was who I served, but then I would just be catering everything that I did to what he wanted or needed, instead of what would make the biggest impact.
When I came to lead my fellow SMEs, I could have said my employees were who I served. And there would have been some truth to that – I wanted to eliminate as many obstacles for them as possible. But it was because we were serving the engineers of the stations with the goal of minimizing equipment damage.
By focusing my attention on serving the engineers of my company, I was able to direct my work activities to meet the highest engineering priorities, to make the biggest technical impact. Yes, the ultimate goal was to better engineer and maintain our equipment to save the customer and company money. But the customer, the company, my manager, and even the employees that reported to me were not who I served. It was the engineers, who had the ability at each site to improve the chemistry for their equipment.
Step 2 – Identify the What
Again, this is the actual role that you will be filling. Are you going to help? Are you going to design? Are you going to coordinate? Are you going to manage (projects)?
What are YOU going to do to serve the group of people you identified in step 1?
When I was revising my mission statement for my current role with Ash Norton Engineering Leadership, it took me a couple of revisions to get the what right. This may happen to you, especially if you are transitioning from a role of individual contributor to a leadership role. That’s ok, keep at it until it fits like a glove!
Step 3 – Identify the Why
Figure out the benefit to those you serve. How will your work benefit them?
As an SME, my role (what) was to provide technical guidance. But the benefit to the station engineers and lab supervisors (why) was to minimize equipment damage and improve equipment performance. The why should relate strongly to their needs and accomplishments for which they are responsible.
Step 4 – Identify the How
Give folks a glimpse of how you will accomplish the mission.
Step 5 – Bring it All Together
Although personal mission statements can be written in a variety of ways, there is an easy way to bring all of the elements together. A basic formula for a mission statement is:
“My mission is to (what) + (who) + (why) + (how).”
This simple structure allows you to describe your mission in a clear, concise way – leading to more focused, productive work.
Step 6 – Adjust
Now after you pull it together, you’ll want to adjust it and make sure it flows. When I was first putting together my mission statement, I originally had my what as “to develop”. But that didn’t really jive well with the how of “leadership and professional development”. So I had to make an adjustment, and really found a better fit with a what of “to help”.
You may find that you will need to reword some of the elements when you pull it all together. You might need to add or take away a preposition here or there to make it work. But just keep in mind to make it brief, clear and dynamic.
There you have it, folks, the step-by-step guide for developing your own mission statement. Remember, your mission statement will help provide direction, clarify your priorities, and identify whom you serve.