Mission impossible?

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What freight do you haul? where do you haul it? Why should someone hire your company? Your existing equipment dictates the answer to some questions. You wouldn’t have sales staff trying to book loads of beef, for example, if all your trailers are flatbeds. But your company is far more than what type of trailers you use. You need a succinct mission statement that describes your company’s primary goals (other than making money, of course).

Mission statements often are used as marketing tools – inscribed on company letterhead and brochures and engraved on plaques in offices. They should be more than promotional gimmicks, however. Mission statements should establish the market differentiation for the company – commodity, price, geography, time sensitivity and so on. To be successful, a mission statement must guide the entire company – operations, sales, maintenance and so on. Otherwise, the statement is meaningless.

What are your SWOTs?
Your first step is an honest and realistic assessment of your company and its capabilities. You either need to define your mission to match your current capabilities or change your business to match your preferred mission. One way to help ensure a proper match is to perform what’s called a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Strengths and weaknesses are current conditions. Long-standing customers and low driver turnover, for example, would be strengths, while unreliable equipment and unstable cash flow might be weaknesses. Threats and opportunities are future-oriented. Opportunities might include a new industry coming to town or a competitor closing a nearby terminal. Threats might include a merger of your largest shipper with another company or an important customer demanding certain equipment or technologies you can’t afford.

By thinking through a SWOT analysis, you can develop a frank picture of your company’s current situation and future prospects. You don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver. If, for example, you promote your company as the lowest-price carrier in the Pacific Northwest but you operate new, driver-spec’ed equipment, pay competitive wages and carry a huge debt load, you certainly will fail to deliver on your promise – or go out of business.

Crafting the statement
A mission statement should be simple, preferably one sentence and never more than two. Avoid “puffed-up” language that does nothing but lengthen the statement and make it harder to understand. Be as specific as possible. Consider the following examples:

1. “Acme Trucking Co. is dedicated to the proposition that all customers will receive value-oriented, individually designed, quality-managed service under conditions and time frames specified by the customer.”

2. “Acme Trucking Co. strives to provide the most reliable refrigerated truckload service west of the Rockies.”

No. 2 is clearly the better mission statement. The first version says nothing; change the company name and it could just as easily be a nail salon as a trucking company.

Words into action
Even more important than being readable, a good mission statement points to a goal everyone can rally behind. In this example, Acme Trucking Co. has chosen maximum reliability as its point of differentiation. That means its management systems should be focused on achieving profitability while providing 100 percent on-time deliveries. For example, Acme might award bonuses to dispatchers and drivers based on the reliability, rather than number, of loads hauled. Or it might reward maintenance for greater uptime and fewer breakdowns in addition to keeping costs low. In the end, the mission statement should sum up what everyone in your company is trying to accomplish.