Was there life before mission statements?

There is a book called The Mission Statement Book which contains 301 corporate mission statements from America’s top companies. Here are the words most frequently used by mission statement writers: service (230 times); customers (211); quality (194); value (183); employees (157); growth (118); environment (117); profit (114); shareholders (114); leader (104); best (102). The word ’exciting’ appears three times and the words ’conscience’ and ’joy’ twice each. These totals have been provided by the author - though whether to encourage or discourage others is not clear.

There is a book called The Mission Statement Book which contains

301 corporate mission statements from America’s top companies. Here are

the words most frequently used by mission statement writers: service

(230 times); customers (211); quality (194); value (183); employees

(157); growth (118); environment (117); profit (114); shareholders

(114); leader (104); best (102). The word ’exciting’ appears three times

and the words ’conscience’ and ’joy’ twice each. These totals have been

provided by the author - though whether to encourage or discourage

others is not clear.



Here is one example: ’Our corporate goals consist of satisfying the

needs of our customers; providing meaningful work for our employees;

producing a quality return to our shareholders; and preserving the

health of our business.’ It is impossible to tell whether the company is

in fast food, financial services or aerospace components. Another

states: ’As we compete, our highest guiding values will remain CARING,

LEADERSHIP, QUALITY and PROFESSIONALISM.’



Many of these 301 statements are interchangeable. The more vacuous they

are, the more interchangeable they become. Some are more concerned with

reputation than performance: ’By the year 2000, The Wackenhut

Corporation will be recognized throughout the world as a uniquely

diversified, superior performing and profitable protective and support

services company.’ With only two and a half years to go, the firm must

speed up its communications program.



We all mock mission statements. Many, I would guess, come into being for

less than respectable reasons: ’Colin, do we have a mission statement?’

’To be honest, chairman, I’m not sure.’ ’It’s just that I was having

dinner with Chuck Rebozo and I gather they’ve got one at Consolidated

...’



Risible as the majority of mission statements are, I suspect that every

company ought to have one; or ought, at least, to go through the

agonizing ordeal of trying to write one. First-generation companies know

instinctively what they’re for. After several generations of management,

however, a singular purpose can become much harder to identify. Chief

executives and corporate communications officers become infatuated with

abstract inanities and forget their original reason for existence

Compare, for example, ’CARING, LEADERSHIP, QUALITY and PROFESSIONALISM’

with this admirable sentiment from Chrysler: ’To produce cars and trucks

that people will want to buy, will enjoy driving, and will want to buy

again.’



There’s a thought that clarifies matters for shareholders, employees and

commentators alike. It even serves as a benchmark against which

management can be measured; which, come to think of it, may be exactly

why most managements prefer vacuity.



Jeremy Bullmore is a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group

and WPP Group



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