I hate your mission statement.
I hate vision statements, statements of purpose, guiding principles, mottoes, and business raison d’etres of all kinds.
That’s because most of them suck. They’re bland, boring, and don’t tell me a single thing about what a company does. Seth Godin found a doozy back in 2005:
It was so bad the company removed it from its website.
Now here’s a good mission statement:
To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women. — Conan the Barbarian
There is no doubt what Conan’s mission in life is. He wants to do one thing, and do it well. Anything else is a distraction that must be dealt with (which, in Conan’s case, involves sword play and eventual dismemberment.)
So why do companies write bad mission statements? Partly because they lose focus. Partly because they don’t want to offend anyone. And partly because they let more than one person write it, usually not the person in charge.
According to a 2008 article in Fast Company, AOL had a mission statement on a plaque in their lobby: (T)o build a global medium as central to people’s lives as the telephone or television… and even more valuable.
Once they accomplished that, and had become one of the media powerhouses of the new century, they asked a committee (GAAH!) to write a new mission statement. They came up with: To serve the world’s most engaged community.”
Seriously? It took more than one person to create that? Something that generic, bland, uninspiring, and just plain emotionally limp took an entire team of people? I’d bet they even met more than once to create it.
It is, as Fast Company said, “a creed that could just as well suit a Hardee’s.” While I don’t think this is what contributed to AOL’s downfall, they certainly lost their way from becoming “central to people’s lives… and even more valuable.” Life imitates art, and mission statements imitate corporate attitude.
Mission statements should inspire and motivate. They’re a battle cry, calling the organization to great and noble things. They’re not some namby-pamby, floppy, pitiful excuse for a gathering of words. They should be the very foundation of what that organization stands for.
President Kennedy established the space program in a speech in 1962 when he said “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
NASA made that one statement their goal, and were successful six months before the end of the decade. That’s because they had a definable goal, a single principle to stand behind. They could look at any activity, idea, or program and ask, “will it help us land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth?” If it would, it stayed. If it didn’t, it was rejected.
So what does your company believe in? Is it something generic and noncommittal? The business version of “we should do something sometime?” Or is it loud and proud, demanding crushing and lamenting?