Management Tips

Mission Position: How do you position your mission?

On my way home today I walked past this guy on the street standing outside one of the newest hippest restaurants downtown. He was on the phone talking shop and having a smoke. As I walked by he said, “We have to keep it short and sweet bro.” And after a short pause, “Huh? What? Mission statement? No, man. We are not writing a fucking mission statement. Forget that crap.” And it didn’t stop there as I moved out of earshot.

Amen brother.

Is he right?

Do you need a mission statement?

How many companies have you worked for? Or have you always been on your own?

Well, I have been at 7 during my 24 illustrious years in the A+D (Architecture + Design) Industry and I can honestly say a mission statement that influences what I do or what I have done is still forthcoming. Don’t get me wrong. There have likely been mission statements in there somewhere but what have they done for me? Up to now?

Not so much……

Oh!

You are not going to sit there and say something like “You didn’t spend the time to look for it, ask about it or understand it” are you?

I hope not because then I would have to hold up my bullshit card.

So, what about you then?

Do you work for someone, are you the kingpin of your organization or are you an entrepreneur and work for yourself? Did I leave anyone out?

What’s your mission statement? Do you know? When’s the last time you looked at it?

If you have one or have access to one go read it now.

Did you find it?

I searched around ye ole internet a bit and found that many big corporations don’t have them posted on their websites for us to see. Maybe I just don’t know where to look but there was resounding silence in the search for these, oh so fabulous, missions. I tried tech giants, auto manufacturers, clothing companies, professional services firms and on and on. After an hour of hitting websites I was out of gas.

A mission statement is a statement of the purpose of a company or organization, its reason for existing.

They have to be there, right?

So why don’t any of the companies I searched have them available to John Q Public?

Based on that experience I am not suggesting that a mission statement is a bad idea I am just wondering if it really drives any results. I suppose if you look at it in the light of a way to measure success then you could certainly find some positive results by acting on the ideas that a mission statement offers. If so, then why is it so hard to find?

Wouldn’t you want that to be public knowledge?

“Oh no Bob, we can’t make our mission statement PUBLIC! What if we can’t live up to it? That would be a PR nightmare and a royal disaster.”

Personally I feel one form of success is treating people with respect and dignity and sharing the goals of the organization with employees and the company’s consumers by bringing them into the fold, so to speak. Shouldn’t the attitude of the employee base, consumer base, management and leadership be aligned? Like-minded, per se. If the stars align then the goals of the organization are met and their people and customers are happy.

“What utopia do you live in?” you might wonder. Well, you know what, I work in such an organization and so can you.

Listen, as I mentioned, I have worked in a few different places and they were not all stellar. I moved or got out because there was a misalignment between their goals or, ahem, their mission and mine.

I probably just didn’t get it.

The question is “Do you really need a mission statement to define the attitude of a corporation?”

Is it that black and white or are we talking about something that needs a lot more consideration? To me, no. If I don’t get what is going on based on my interaction with the people that I work with, the same people whose attitudes drive the results of the organization, then I don’t agree with their mission whether I know what it is or not.

Public or private.

So, go ahead and write your mission statement but before you do be sure you know why you are doing what you are doing, your people know why you are doing it and if you don’t then figure that out first. Maybe you will decide you don’t need one.

Why do I write a blog?

Because I want to have fun creating words that can help people and that can help me be a better person.

Why do I work at the firm I do?

Because I love the opportunity to think like an entrepreneur and am trusted to push the envelope within my field of expertise.

Are those my mission statements or are they just how I feel about what I do?

One and the same?

Over to you: do you have a mission statement and if you do does it mean something special to you?

 

 

 

 

 

About this Author: Ralph Dopping (195 Posts)

A quirky sense-o-humour coupled with an indelible sense of stylish sarcasm makes it difficult to take the world too seriously doesn't it? My faves: fun, passion and hard work. I work here everyday: www.designdialog.ca


28 comments
Vidya Sury
Vidya Sury

It is definitely important for businesses to have a mission statement and I am gratified that many of the companies I visited (as a sales person and as a trainer) had one in public display, beautifully framed. Whether they lived by it is something only their Board of Directors can answer truthfully, but it was nevertheless reassuring to see that there was one. They also publish it in their annual report. :-)

 

What is even more important than just having one, is to communicate it through all levels in the organization so that everyone works towards the corporate goal. One of the most common crazies in companies is the age-old loggerheads-ness between finance and marketing, who behave as though they are enemies forced to live together.

 

Personally, I do make wishlists (which I don't frame beautifully and put on public display :P), but which I am conscious about.  For some irrelevant reason, I remembered this" If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there".

 

:D Hugs!Ralph

 

Oh - I am unable to subscribe to email updates for your blog because during the 70 or 80 odd times that I have tried, Google apologizes and gives me some c'n'b about my computer or network sending automated queries. I haven't had this issue anywhere else. And though I've tried, haven't been able to resolve it :D

Craig McBreen
Craig McBreen

Hi Ralph,

 

With many first time clients I ask them for their mission statement. They often bring out something that seems as if it was lifted from the same boiler plate, and as Jamie so perfectly stated: "most official mission statements evolve (devolve?) through a series of committee-based "Frankensteining" that leaves them bloated, garbled, and full of corporate-speak." Yep!

 

And I'm not sure a mission statement really connects with potential customers, but I do think it's an important part of the process … you're defining your culture and where you want to take your org. And I often get these people to revisit their geriatric words and craft something a bit more inline with their true culture. Once they get those new words on paper it helps drive the entire process: Copywriting, design, etc.

bdorman264
bdorman264

To be the premier provider of insurance and risk management solutions for our clients, while maximizing long-term shareholder value for our employee-owners. I like it, as that is what we really do. 

 

Part of the mission statement is maintaining a 'culture' as to who you are and what you are about. Whenever new people come in, it's much easier for them to 'get it.' then. 

 

They are just words, but if you really live it, then it gives it meaning. 

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

My mission is simple; to elevate the quality of every life I come into contact with.

 

It's great to be on this side of things, because I rarely if ever ask anything from anybody - - I'm always in a position to provide value and give, not take - - And I make all the rules, it really doesn't matter what people think about it.

 

Happy Sunday Ralph!

Faryna
Faryna

Kaarina makes a point that rings true. Not everyone knows what they want. Of course, everyone wants money, power and honor - each according to the limits of their imagination, fear and potential.

 

But clarity can be a sumbich - to borrow a word from the epic Bill Dorman. Ironically, clarity unveils more challenges than ever does that ordinary, hopeless confusion that gropes and stumbles in the dark.

 

That said, I find that the most difficult challenge is aligning creative people to a mission and a vision. Because they tend to take their cues and direction from their own personal problems and ambitions. Often without much regard for what is going on around them.

 

So it happens that I am a believer in the mission and vision statement. And that's the key. If leaders don't believe in it, if it doesn't excite and inspire the leaders and followers... there is no mission and vision.

 

In that situation, all you have is people waiting for a pay check and free pizza - now and then. That doesn't mean the business can't work. But like Ralph, you won't find me at a place like that.

 

Recently on my blog: 

Love and Acceptance. And Other Social Media DOHs

http://stanfaryna.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/love-and-acceptance-and-other-social-media-dohs/

KDillabough
KDillabough

Many of the companies I've worked with have what I call a 1952 Mission Statement (nothing special about 1952...it's a date I pulled out of the air)... a statement that's full of what I also call "plastic" words...words that mean everything and mean nothing. Motherhood statements. Crafted at some retreat, run by an external facilitator with lots of flip charts and coloured markers, with stale sandwiches for lunch and, at the end of the day, some plastic Mission statement that no one remembers. I'm being a little harsh...but only a little.I do believe it's vital for a company/entrepreneur to have a r'aison d'etre: to know what they stand for, what's important, and as @suddenlyjamie  said, a purpose.

 

I don't have a Mission statement: I have a Mission, and it's a simple 3 words: To spread joy. That's what I'm on this planet to do, and it's what guides me in my everyday life. I find that many people/companies have not defined their true purpose. That's why they flounder, are unhappy, are chasing things that  aren't congruent with purpose.I ask a simple question that is very telling: "Can you articulate clearly to me that which you want?"

 

To this I usually hear, "well I don't want this" and "I don't want that". Many people know what they don't want. Not everyone know what they do want. That's the starting point for me. Because "if you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there." Cheers! Kaarina

TheJackB
TheJackB

I think it comes down to whether people understand the focus, purpose and direction of where you want to go. When people can follow that it makes it easier to try and  have a uniform purpose. But does it have to be written for the public to see?

 

I don't know. I think it depends on the organization and what they are doing.

Latest blog post: Writers Write Right Part 2

Erin F.
Erin F.

Hmm. A thought-provoking question. Perhaps "mission" is a little overused, but I do think it's important to know why you do what you do. Without it, you have no sense of direction, which makes its really hard to lead or to build some sort of culture.

 

I agree, though, that most mission statements tend to be drivel. They're the feel-good, sound-good words. They have no depth to them. A company or a person is revealed by what they do and how they do it, both of which usually rest in the why and who - being before doing, I guess?

suddenlyjamie
suddenlyjamie

Hello, Ralph! 

Love this line of questioning. 

As someone who always has her bullshit card at the ready, I have to say that my BS radar is usually tripped pretty quick when I hear the words "mission statement." 

 

I don't think it's bad to have a "mission," per se, but most official mission statements evolve (devolve?) through a series of committee-based "Frankensteining" that leaves them bloated, garbled, and full of corporate-speak. Those mission statements aren't doing anyone any good (except, perhaps, for the agency hired to craft them). 

 

I don't have a mission statement, but I'm working on defining my "purpose" and - more importantly to the people who hire me - a clearly defined value proposition. 

 

A mission statement is like a wish. It's aspirational: "This is who we want to be."

A value proposition is a promise. It's factual: "This is who we are/what we do/what we deliver."

 

Most people outside the organization will care a whole heck of a lot more about the value prop than the mission statement because the value prop answers that age-old question: WIIFM (what's in it for me?). What VALUE can you deliver to ME?

 

There is a definite yin and yang that you need to think about when it comes to defining "core values" and "value propositions," etc. You need to discover what drives you from the inside (what you really care about) out (how you manifest that passion in the world), but craft your offer from the outside (your customers) in (your offer). 

 

So, no ... no mission statement for this gal. But I don't think it'll slow me down. ;) 

rdopping
rdopping moderator

Interesting @Vidya Sury  I knew there would be opposing views which is great.

 

I would agree with you only if companies would live by their mission and everyone in the organization understood it. Maybe a good experiment to do is inquire in those organizations that you visit as to what percentage of people actually know about the mission, understand it and actually buy into it. It might be a tough thing to do and if you ask you will really see if the leadership of the company believes it themselves.

 

Thanks for your thoughts (happy face)!

 

BTW, I tested the subscription box on my homepage and it works just fine. Maybe try that. If you have I am not sure what is up there. I will ask my techie web person to see if they can sort it out. If you are trying RSS then use the orange button above the 4 stick figures on the homepage. I hope we can sort it out for you (sad face).

 

It's great to hear from you.

rdopping
rdopping moderator

There you go @timbo1973 you just proved my point for me. Ha! I don't know that you need a mission statement as much as you know why and what you are doing. Your attitude toward the work and your clients will help define your mission. 

 

Some people feel that you need a package to wrap around your intent and that's ok but not if it's drummed into your head at ISO time. Doesn't seem like much of a mission to me either. It's good to hear from someone else that has had similar experiences.

 

When you figure it out I would be happy to mull it about! Thanks for dropping in, Tim. Appreciate your insight!

rdopping
rdopping moderator

 @Craig McBreen I assume you agree that culture cannot be "made" and that it evolves from the leadership on down? I can see how a mission can align a firms attitude but like the "dude" in my story I can only **assume** he was talking to his partner (s) about a relatively new start up. Big assumption but at that point how can you have a mission.

 

Would these companies not be better off defining their reason for being besides to make crap loads of money? But then again, that is what you are saying, isn't it? You know, it might be interesting to get new clients of your to talk about their business, drivers and culture to you and have you give them some key words to work from. That way, you are a newcomer or potential consumer can give some "forest for the trees" type of input.

 

The one thing that irks me a bit here is that you suggest that you are not sure a mission connects with potential customers which seems so wrong to me. If your mission doesn't connect they how can you provided your mission defines your "why" which in my way of thinking it needs to.

 

Interesting thoughts here Craig and I do appreciate you taking the time to stop in. I always enjoy the back and forth with you, my friend. Cheers.

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @Craig McBreen I think this whole conversation has given me an idea for a Write Right workshop. :)

 

In one of my comments I said I was picky about the people with whom I'll work. I am. I choose to work with the ones who are willing to answer the "why" and "where" questions. Hard questions, but necessary ones if they want to lead or to tell their story in any sort of way that makes a difference.

rdopping
rdopping moderator

Hey  @bdorman264 Livin' it! That's the key right from the top, right?

 

Building culture is a great example. Our firm has 4 culture statements; Make a Difference, Enjoy the Journey, Do Great Work and Create Success which I like because they are direct statements that leave you with opportunity. You can apply these is many different ways which is what makes them so good.

 

Thanks for dropping in. Hope you had a great weekend. Cheers, Bill!

rdopping
rdopping moderator

 @Mark_Harai Simple is good Mark. I have always been a fan of the KISS rule and will always be.

 

You are in a great position where you are. Most people have some need to receive along with the give. That's one thing i love about this platform. The give and take, back and forth and sharing of ideas and information. Your mission is a great one and I think it is an admirable one.

 

I will leave you with this...... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Hgz-q76KtQ&feature=player_detailpage

 

rdopping
rdopping moderator

 @Faryna Now how does Stan know that I feed my team pizza once a month?

 

Off topic, but we get together monthly to discuss issues that occur on the account right from design to construction. If you eat pizza you contribute (it's free - sort of). If you know what I did that may help but the point is we also have a mission. "No Regrets, Just Lessons Learned" which ironically came from a beer coaster.

 

Is that a mission statement? Sounds like it but to stay aligned with what you are saying and what Kaarina pointed out; it's simple and to the point. There is very little ambiguity there. The other thing it is not is public except to our client. Well, I certainly believe it and it seems my team does too so I suppose as a mission it helps us get through the week, month and quarter.

 

It's good to see that you are up to the challenge of aligning people to the purpose of the business. Thank you for your thoughts here @Faryna and I am glad you had the time to stop in. Enjoy your week, sir!

suddenlyjamie
suddenlyjamie

 @KDillabough LOVE your description of the "plastic" words and so forth. You nailed it. Sadly, I've been at those kinds of retreats with old employers. They would say ANYthing to get through the exercise. They mostly just wanted to start happy hour at the open bar! ;) 

 

I agree with @rdopping - you hit on something really important - simplicity. Only when we boil things down - all the way down - can we get to the heart of our purpose. Yours is beautiful. "To spread joy" is the kind of purpose you can get behind ... the kind of purpose that you can serve for a whole lifetime. 

 

:)

rdopping
rdopping moderator

Well  @KDillabough that was brilliantly said and yes  @suddenlyjamie has a great point. Purpose. It seems you know yours and you are smart to keep it simple. I hope you see that as complimentary as i have heard so many time where people make their r'aison d'etre so complicated it is difficult to understand.

 

It's EASY to tell people what you don't want but not too many people can be as clear about why the do what they do. This may sound cheesy but I have a deep love for all things design that has not faded from the first days I discovered it in college (even before). Helping young designers see their potential gives me so much joy. So, there you have it.

 

Thank you for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. Always appreciated. P.S. Great post over at A Hopeful Sign and thanks for the return comment there. You are a pretty wise one yourself....:-)

rdopping
rdopping moderator

Thanks for you thoughts  @TheJackB Does a mission need to be public? Well in the case of a corporation that wants people to know what they are about, in a word, yes. Individually, no, as your mission would normally come out in what you do. Not an authority here but as I mentioned below if you are doing things that suit your goals you don't necessarily need to publish a mission statement for people to understand your drivers. It should be inherent in what you do.

 

Thanks for stopping in. Appreciate your comments.

rdopping
rdopping moderator

 Right on @Erin F.  You couldn't be more on point there. I am waiting for some really strong opposition and feel that it may come but we will see.

 

Being before doing sums it up well for me. Like I mentioned in a previous post people are behind a brand and those people make or break the brand. Every single time. A mission statement doesn't mean bupkiss if your people treat your customers like crap or your product is lousy. 

 

When companies focus on their people and their product then the mission writes itself in a way.

 

Thanks for your thoughts and thank you for taking the time to stop in. I hope the title wasn't too hook-y. Have a great day.

rdopping
rdopping moderator

Hey  @suddenlyjamie  that's EXACTLY why I decided to write this piece. Spot on response to my line of thinking. Does the mission or an organization change? Probably when they don't know what it is yet or when they are not sure why they do what the do yet.

 

I love the idea of demonstrating core values and your value proposition. They just seem to read as actionable whereas a mission statement does not and maybe that's what is fundamentally wrong there.

 

Thanks for your comments. Great, great response.

KDillabough
KDillabough

 @rdopping Thanks Ralph:) I believe when we tend to complicate things that don't need to be complicated:) Good for you to be following your "love for all things design" and helping others. Keep enjoying:)

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @rdopping You have no idea how good it is to hear those words. 

 

I'm sure opposition will come. Some companies are tied to their mission statements, possibly because they don't have anything standing behind them. That probably came out sounding really cynical...

 

I like the title. It has a nice rhythm, and it's fun to say.

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @rdopping  @Craig McBreen I'm still contemplating the idea, similar to how I'm contemplating a tote bag idea. The tote bag one I can run on my own. I might need to bounce ideas off people for a workshop. That, or I'll make the people who take my business writing class at the library stand in as test subjects. I think the topic would be a worthwhile one to add to my list of speaking subjects. Maybe I need to rename the tab, though. I also need to revisit my about page. Aaah! This is the problem with pithy subjects. I start evaluating where I need to change. :D 

 

While we're on the topic of mission statements, I don't have one on my site. I guess it could be the statement I have on my Facebook page. I help people and businesses tell their stories. The end. Of course, I then get asked about my preponderance with the writing rules. My answer? If people want to be good storytellers, they need to know how to write right and when to write wrong. I really do need to update my about page...

rdopping
rdopping moderator

 @Erin F. Yeah but I like it (the cynical bit) because it is likely truer that you think. Cheers lady!