October 27, 2010
Mission Statements Don’t Get No Respect
BY Mary Mahoney
To borrow the words of the late Rodney Dangerfield, mission statements “don’t get no respect.” It seems that even the very people who once advocated them now love to despise them.
Listen to what business guru Tom Peters now says about mission statements: “Like all good things, the idea has been attenuated beyond recognition. A Tepid Top Team goes ‘offsite’ to somewhere warm in February, produces six insipid statements that differentiate them/the company from no one.
“They have no clue as to what it really means to live up to these statements, assuming they were serious in the first place and not just following the herd. Then they return home, have their gin-soaked ‘gem’ immortalized in plastic and hand it out ceremoniously to 20,000 of the Unwashed as Holy Writ.”
A little harsh? Maybe, but his contemporary Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, shares the wrath: “Many companies have dreary mission statements that are nothing more than a bland description of the company’s operations – a boring stream of words that evokes the response, ‘True, but who cares?’
“The statements smack of corporate doublespeak and are incapable of tapping people’s spirit.” He cites the following example of a “dead fish” mission statement:
“The corporation is committed to providing innovative engineering solutions to specialized problems where technology and close attention to customer service can differentiate it from job-shop or commodity of production operations.”
How is it that something so vitally important to any size business, so integral to the development of a strategic business plan is handled so poorly by so many companies?
Stephen Covey, in his very first book, First Things First, offers an explanation. He believes that mission statements often are not taken seriously in organizations because they are developed by top executives who never bother to get the buy-in of their employees.
So, it’s not that these experts hate the idea of mission statements; they just hate the way this good idea has been executed – poorly – and they love to chide the pompous, self-important executives who have hijacked a good business concept as window-dressing.
The fact is, mission statements are as fundamental to a strategic business plan as a concrete block foundation is to the integrity of any structure. They serve to define the organization’s purpose. Without a purpose, companies – like people – get lost.
Collins describes an effective mission statement as “a clear and compelling goal that focuses people’s efforts. It is tangible, specific, crisp, clear and engaging. It reaches out and grabs people in the gut.”
As an example, he cites President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Man on the Moon” speech: “This nation should dedicate itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
Collins also likes the mission espoused by Jack Welch when he was CEO of General Electric, who said the company should “become number one or number two in every market we serve and revolutionize this company to have the speed and agility of a small enterprise.”
Cary Adams, a management consultant who coauthored the book, Six Sigma Deployment, says a mission statement should “state who we are, whom we serve, what products and services we provide and how we make those products and services available to our customer, clients or patients.”
Only when an organization has established its vision, mission and value can it proceed to develop a strategy, he notes. “To attempt to develop a strategy before values, vision and mission are clear, understood and accepted is a mistake.”
Peter Drucker, in his classic book, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities and Practices, said a good mission statement makes strategy formulation, strategy implementation and strategy evaluation much easier.
The team at J.Robinson Group helps companies develop vision and mission statements and the strategic plans that flow from them. We believe our ability to provide independent, objective analyses and advice can help our clients develop truly meaningful mission statements.
I would like to close with some of my favorite mission statements:
• Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
• The Hershey Company: “Bringing sweet moments of Hershey happiness to the world every day.”
• Walmart: “We save people money so they can live better.”
• Aflac: “To combine innovative strategic marketing with quality products and services at competitive prices to provide the best insurance value for consumers.”
• Dolce Hotels and Resorts: “Dolce is committed to delighting its guests, challenging its associates, rewarding its owners and serving as a role model in its communities.”
• Honda: “Maintaining a global viewpoint, we are dedicated to supplying products of the highest quality, yet at a reasonable price for worldwide customer satisfaction.”
• Carnival Cruise Lines: “Carnival Cruise Lines prides itself on delivering fun, memorable vacations to our guests by offering a wide array of quality cruises which present outstanding value for the money.”
What’s your favorite mission statement? I’d love to hear what resonates with you.
Next time, I’ll continue with my exploration of the strategic planning process.