Most large companies have a mission statement, an expression that sets out the purpose of the organization or what the organization intends to achieve over time.
In some large organizations, it's not uncommon to walk around an office and see posters displayed with a statement to remind everyone of the organization's mission (which some people really do see as the successful end result of communicating that mission to employees).
One goal for many companies who have articulated their mission is to hope that employees act the part in their behaviours and their interactions with fellow employees, customers and everyone they come into professional contact with.
It can be hit and miss when acting out the mission, so to speak - more miss than hit if this story is any indicator.
In recounting his sorry experiences in dealing with a customer service employee of Avis, the car rental firm, when he queried some charges on his rental bill, Financial Times reporter Sathnam Sanghera noticed that "We Try Harder", Avis's 42-year-old mission statement, was emblazoned on surfaces around the office:
[...] The words haunted me as I stomped off to write a long and ultimately unsuccessful letter of complaint. We Try Harder? Try harder to do what? To irritate our loyal customers? To drive them away? Weeks later, the words were still swilling around my head. So, as an outlet for my rage, I began researching the subject of mission statements, to find out if they are all as annoying as Avis's.
Sanghera discusses some of the findings of his subsequent research and spells out what he believes are the ingredients needed for organizational missions:
[...] Mission statements need not be a source of irritation if they are: (1) short, (2) clear, and (3) realisable. The third point is key and an emphasis that Bono, frontman of rock group U2, made in a recent TV interview when he was asked to articulate his band's philosophy. "We want to be the greatest band in the world," he said before pausing and correcting himself. "Actually, it's not that. We just don't want to be crap."
Nicely put. All the best corporate mission statements adopt this modest approach, Sanghera says. He illustrates Walt Disney's aim "to make people happy" as one example, as are Wal-Mart's aim "to give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people", 3M's aim "to solve unsolved problems innovatively" and Google's simple aim "not to be evil."
His conclusion gets to the real heart of the matter:
[...] As it happens, Avis's "We Try Harder", which the company describes on its website as its "rallying cry", fits my criteria perfectly. It is short, memorable and realisable. Indeed, there is no problem with the mission statement at all. The problem, judging from my experience and from Avis's recent lamentable corporate performance, is that the company has given up trying to make its mission statement a reality.
Whether it is giving up or simply poor communication, there's always a missing link - helping employees understand and interpret an organizational statement for its direct relevance to them, what they do and where they sit in the overall organization structure. And without clearly articulated and credible vision - which many people confuse with mission - to connect up the dots, both organization and employee are in an impossible situation.
Otherwise, any organization may as well have something like this:
Our goal is to synergistically fashion value-added solutions to stay competitive in tomorrow's world.
It actually looks very familiar to the type of crap mission statement I saw displayed recently in the offices of a large UK company (who I won't mention at the moment to protect the shameless).
Maybe they thought it up at the same place I did - Dilbert's Mission Statement Generator.
Try it yourself. Reduce the word count before you generate your statement and I bet you'll come up with something that matches Sanghera's first two ingredients. Who knows, it might just also be realizable.
Financial Times | Why so many mission statements are mission impossible (paid sub required)