Company Mission Statements Critiqued
The lure and illusion of finality—the mission statement to end all mission statements-- belies the fact that this not an eternal but basically an historical document and as such captures organizational change only up to this point. To be sure, many statements are dreadful--old and dated and badly need to be revisited to remain vital.
Then too the time allowed for feedback is so short or regulated that the offer is a token gesture. Finally, the latest version is mounted and fixed on both the masthead and the website, and remains generally untapped except by CEOs usually only when first promulgated. It sits there severe and inanimate devoid of any vitality, excitement and ownership.
Although direct remedies quickly come to mind, perhaps more can be accomplished by a different approach of killing two birds with one stone. Namely to start with a sample of already crafted statements and have the end drive the beginning--the result, the process.
Here then is an instructive sample of what might be given to the task force. Other examples obviously could be selected but the ones below have worked for me as a coach. I sometimes have added a few snide observations to demonstrate that mission statements are not sacred cows. Here then is my sample:
General Motors Company Mission Statement
GM is a multinational corporation engaged in socially responsible operations, worldwide. It is dedicated to provide products and services of such quality that our customers will receive superior value while our employees and business partners will share our success and our stockholders will receive a sustained superior return on their investment.
Commentary: Such mission statements are often excessive. Their claims are too good to be true; they operate on a check list mentality guaranteeing a share of success to every constituency; and they are unnecessarily defensive. Mission statements should not strain credibility. Oh, by the way, what does GM make?
Wal-Mart Company Mission Statement
Our mission is to enhance and integrate our supplier diversity programs into all of our procurement practices and to be an advocate for minority and women-owned businesses.
Commentary: Many would not know what they are talking about or recognize that this is how Wal-Mart sees itself in public but not how its customers or employees perceive them. Besides, what happened to the champion of low prices and rollbacks?
Walt Disney Company Mission Statement
The mission of the Walt Disney company is to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.
Commentary: Many years earlier before all this corporate gobbledygook took over, Walt Disney himself described his mission statement simply as: "To Make People Happy."
Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company Mission Statement
We will build great ships. At a profit if we can. At a loss if we must .But we will build great ships.
Columbia Southern University Mission Statement
To change lives through education, and to meet the needs of adult learners in a way unmatched in higher education.
Starbucks Company Mission Statement
To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time.
Commentary: This is an ambitious example of a mission statement trying to change our entire sense of a cup of coffee—to be uplifting and nurturing, to be a builder of neighborhoods, not to be frenzied about its all happening but gradual and caring. The clear suggestion is that a cup of Starbucks makes you a nicer person.
What general conclusions about the sampling above can we come to?
• One size does not fit all.
• The variety is startling and unpredictable.
• The display inhabits a range from the traditional stuffy versions to a midpoint of adjusted statements and finally to short, radical, forceful and direct versions that read like an assertive rallying cries.
• Stylistically they also range from long paragraphs to one sentence short statements; from ponderous, heavy and serious proclamations to shoot from the hip almost irreverent quips.
• Mission statements are supposed to model what business you are in, what competition you face, and your core values.
• The ultimate test is that it should serve as a recruiting device leading applicants to say" That is the kind of business I want to be in and that is the kind of company I want to work for!"
That leads to diversity and raises two questions: how has diversity affected company operations and its relationship to its customers? Gradually also sharing of differences embraces ownership and diversity and converges a larger commonality which they now all share.
It is at this point that we distribute the sampling of mission statements without any commentary because that is what the team will be asked to do. In addition, they will be asked to search for other mission statements in their industry and comment on these.
The net result is often surprising and obvious. It disciplined but stirring. In the process somehow the flaws of process have if not eliminated are at least muted. When the final draft is presented to the CEO he may be initially shocked by its reassuring nature.
But as he begins to imagine how all will respond to reading this new mission statement, he begins slowly to smile and even laughs loudly ever time he reads it over again: "This is it--a miniature of the whole. This is what we do—who we are--we should all be doing this!"