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Do yourself a favour – burn your mission statement!

Mar 30, 2009 Business Daily, Strategy

Vision: To be a leading provider of quality products and services in the region.

Mission: To deliver quality solutions and excellent returns and service to all our esteemed stakeholders through consistent best practice.

Customer Focus
Social Responsibility

Do your vision, mission and values statements look anything like what I’ve put in the box? If they do, I suggest you burn them immediately. I’m entirely serious. The ones I’ve shown do not belong to any organisation in particular, but they are a reflection of most of the hundreds of similar statements written by real organisations that I have come across over the years. I bet your organisation’s statements, though not identical, will have much in common with these ones.

What is so wrong with them, you ask? Simply this: they say nothing that is worth saying at all. If your vision is to become ‘a leading provider’ of whatever you make or sell, please question your ambitions. Everyone should want to be leading in their industry – what else is there to be? Is it worth stating?

When you have a value termed ‘excellence’ – well, what else is worth aspiring to in life: mediocrity? When you say you value ‘professionalism’ or ‘social responsibility’, what are you really telling us about yourself, that you have been something other than that in the past? You say you believe in ‘quality’ – but is there anything else that any business that sells at any price should believe in? ‘Customer focus’ – you mean there’s another way to conduct a business? And is there any way to get anything done in a modern organisation other than through good ‘teamwork’? Why are these banal and mundane things being stated at all?

The second problem is that these statements communicate next to nothing, as they are written in managerial gobbledegook. Read the mission statement again: is that really a ‘mission’ at all? Does it excite you, stir your passions, call you to action – or just put you to sleep? All this talk of ‘stakeholders’ and ‘best practice’ – who is it aimed at, and who understands it other than people just like the ones who wrote it?

Let’s ask ourselves again: what is the point of vision and mission statements, what are we trying to achieve with them? If we want to excite our people and give them a compelling purpose to believe in, then the examples shown fail miserably. If we want to communicate some clear targets so that employees know what to aim at, then the examples shown fail miserably. If we want to tell the world at large what distinguishes our company from millions of others, then the examples shown fail miserably.

And yet, how far are the examples shown from the norm?

Great communication IS vital for corporate success, and great statements of purpose CAN be valuable tools. But not the sort of glib and meaningless verbiage that we see all around us. If you are using these in your organisation, you would be better off without them. Excellent leaders do stir the passions of their followers, but they do it in much better ways than by framing and displaying inanity. They do it by setting an example of the desired behaviour. They do it by communicating in person with empathy and humour. They do it by making it crystal-clear what each person in the organisation needs to do. And they do it by walking around and demonstrating what needs to be done.

Have mission statements, by all means; but only if you can make them short, punchy, clear, meaningful and interesting. Otherwise, light a large fire.

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