Sheep love mission statements

Are Mission Statements a Thing of the Past?

Some people refer to company Mission Statements as “corporate wishful thinking.“ And I’ve never personally read a Mission Statement that didn’t appear self-serving, contrived, and trite. Why have one?  What good does it serve?

Here’s a mission statement I recently read,

Our mission is to achieve the highest level of customer satisfaction with personalized quality customer service to our client companies.  Our management team is committed to the fundamental principal: To Provide Quality Service to Our Customers.

Read it again. It’s particularly redundant—as if saying nothing once isn’t enough. It’s also poorly drafted, confusing, and hollow—all in all an excellent example of bad customer service.

Not long ago, I saw a cartoon that showed two older men sitting at a table in a private club. One was saying to the other, “I equate success with making money hand over fist.”

Now, “I equate success with making money hand over fist” may not be a great Mission Statement but it was refreshing to see someone—even a cartoon caricature—equate profit with success (i.e. “mission”). After all, without profits, we don’t achieve any of the more admirable objectives a company might have, such as funding employee education or advancement programs.

Here’s another Mission Statement that caused me to wonder.

To be a premier national company, dedicated to creating the highest levels of value, producing long-term levels of industry-leading profitability and growth.

At least this one mentions profits, but its lack of specificity makes it meaningless rather than meaningful. I mean, who would guess this Mission Statement is for a bank?

One of the dangers of a grandiose Mission Statement is hearing it used in a mocking, pejorative fashion when the company doesn’t meet the high standards it has publicly proclaimed. Several years ago, this Mission Statement was issued by a company that subsequently filed for bankruptcy in a hail of fraud and accounting sleight-of-hand…

We adhere to the highest ethical standards of business practice, contributing to the economic growth and social progress of our nation and society, as we conscientiously fulfill our obligations to our customers and staff.

…with, I might add, an under-funded pension plan, terminated employees, unpaid suppliers, and horrendous stockholder losses.

So again, who are Mission Statements for? Should a company have one Mission Statement for its employees, such as, “To operate efficiently and produce high profits so we can afford to pay our employees [read “executives”] more”?

And one for its customers, such as, “To supply quality products at a low price but high enough to maximize profits”?

I don’t think either one works.

Here’s another good one:

In partnership with our customers, provide most valued, innovative, high quality solutions to enhance asset safety, reliability and service quality, and contribute to our respective returns on investment.

What is “asset safety”? Does reliability relate to the safe assets or to some other unmentioned product?

What is the “Mission” of a corporate enterprise? I don’t know. I do know that the four constituents of any company are its customers, suppliers, employees, and stockholders. Drafting a meaningful Mission Statement that addresses the needs of all of those constituents is impossible. Don’t even try.

Don’t waste time drafting a Mission Statement, having signs painted, and adding the statement to your corporate stationary or invoices. Instead, just do as good a job as you can do for everyone associated with your company and its markets. Just do good work. Don’t publish unreachable objectives that were written by committee or issue statements that say nothing constructive. In fact, never again publish something written by a committee. And certainly don’t attempt to make your company known by a cliché-laden, saccharin-sweetened, bromide that you call a “Mission Statement” but know you can’t achieve.

A good internal alternative is to look at creating a Mantra. A Mantra is a short statement of a few words that serves to inspire and motivate a group in the right direction. Don’t worry, we’ll write all about Mantras in another post very soon…

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