Miss September and the Mission Statement

Excerpt from a session I conduct to help leaders convert their company mission statement from “wall art” to something that employees can live and breathe.

I am not anti mission statement. “Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.” A company without a mission statement that’s been thought through carefully is not going to have focus in setting priorities, differentiating itself, or aligning its employees.

A few years ago when I worked in the health insurance industry, I took the mission statements of the six largest health insurance companies in the nation, removed the company name, and asked employees in my company to find our mission statement in the stack. Fewer than 20% of the people I asked could accurately identify the mission statement of the company that signed their paycheck.

Most companies have mission statements that are like vintage pin-up girls. What do the two have in common?

  1. Both get lots of attention when they are new, and they generate a lot of excitement
  2. Both are airbrushed by a team of artists and professionals before they are released
  3. Both make you feel inferior in comparison
  4. Both take longer than they should to develop
  5. While they purport to be unique and new, they are all variations on a theme (i.e, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all)
  6. Both give you a vague sense that you should be doing something, but not necessarily the right something

Here’s a test if your mission statement is working for you.

  1. Can most of your employees identify yours?
  2. If they can, are they able to tell you two or three things that they do each day that enables and drives the mission?
  3. If you were to read your mission statement to someone not connected to your industry, would they be interested? Confused? Bored? Lost?

I like the Culver’s mission statement: Every guest who chooses Culver’s leaves happy. Does that sound too vague? A customer who visits a filthy bathroom will not leave happy. A guest who bites into a half frozen burger will not leave happy. A guest who gets the wrong flavor ice cream will not leave happy. A guest who waits in a long line while an incompetent counter worker acts as if he’s seeing a cash register for the first time will not leave happy. The Culver mission statement IS VAGUE…and yet every employee at every level understands how he delivers on helping guests leave happy.

Do your employees know what to do when they read your mission statement? Maybe you should go to Culver’s for lunch to think it over…

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