Walt Disney Co.'s mission statement is “To make people happy.” Wal-Mart's is “To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people.” Reaching this level of deceptively simple prose requires time and energy. But in the end, the words become both rudder and anchor.

It took more than two years for the staff at DuKate Fine Remodeling to come up with its mission statement. After 17 years in business, owner Mike DuKate realized that to ensure continued success, the staff needed a single mindset so that every employee was headed toward the same goal. DuKate held a companywide meeting — he had about a dozen employees then — and asked for ideas on what the company was about, what its job was, and what differentiated it from other remodeling companies.

At that first meeting, employees named the company's values: integrity, honesty, excellence. Then the mission statement appeared on DFR's weekly meeting agenda until everyone was comfortable with it. Office manager Kathy Shertzer used the Internet to research other companies' statements. She suggests the following sites: MyStrategicPlan.com; BPlans.com; Family-Business-Experts.com; and BusinessPlans.org.

Gary Rochman and his staff at Rochman Design-Build took a similar road to creating their company's mission statement, which became necessary as the small Ann Arbor, Mich., company began a growth curve.

“We wanted to make decisions based on the values and ethics elaborated in the statement rather than basing everything on ‘Gary's gut,'” says Rochman, who had the mission statement framed and prominently hung in the office. Employees recite the statement at the beginning of each monthly staff meeting.

“The other way I bring it to life,” Rochman says, “is when we have a great success or a failure. In a meeting I'll ask, ‘Which part of the mission statement did we fail at or reinforce?' We should be able to [answer this] if we've correctly defined our company.”

According to Shertzer, “Mike wanted a single sentence that we could all agree was a complete answer to the question ‘What do you do?' He wanted us to be able to say something other than ‘remodeling.'”

From initially identifying and defining DFR's values, staff developed this final statement: “We create well-designed living spaces through the craftsmanship of experts, enjoying open communication and exhibiting honor to our clients.” All DFR employees have the statement memorized, and all have an answer to the question “What do you do for a living?” But more than that, they all strive together to fulfill the promise.