Why Most Mission Statements Are Useless & How to Fix Them

Sam Obitz / June 14th, 2012 / No Comments »

Almost every company has a mission statement. Most companies spend a great deal of time and money crafting theirs because it is supposed to be the guiding principle for all their decisions going forward. So how come (despite the importance placed on mission statements) a majority of them are well-intentioned but useless at best, and confusing or nonsensical at worst?

I think many companies try too hard and focus on writing something that sounds really good and perhaps a bit unique, as opposed to something that is practical and useful. In order for a mission statement to be effective, it must possess two key traits:

1)   It must be so ingrained and easily understood that any employee in your organization can repeat it back to you when asked.

2)   It must serve as a prism in which you can put any idea through to see if it furthers the company mission and provides immediate guidance.

I have seen very few mission statements which encompass both of these traits. One such company is CVS Corporation whose mission statement is:

“We will be the easiest pharmacy retailer for customers to use.”

Not only is it likely that every member of the organization can remember this and repeat it back when asked, but it also provides excellent guidance. If someone were to suggest cutting the number of pharmacists in each store, you would instantly realize that is not likely to make it easier for their customers to use them. Conversely, if someone suggested using Feng Shui to organize each store, you would know it was worthy of consideration, because there is a chance that this could make the store easier for customers to use.

Now let’s take a look at some of the more typical mission statements from a few well known companies (please bear with me as some of these are going to be excruciatingly painful to get through – so feel free to skip to the end of them as soon as you lose interest):

Here’s Albertsons:

“Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate.”

I think it’s fair to say it is highly likely that, with the possible exception of the people involved in writing this one, no one in the organization could repeat it back to you when asked. If an employee suggests adding a new brand of milk or cutting the stores hours, this is not likely to provide any guidance either.

Here’s The McGraw-Hill Companies:

“We are dedicated to creating a workplace that respects and values people from diverse backgrounds and enables all employees to do their best work. It is an inclusive environment where the unique combination of talents, experiences, and perspectives of each employee makes our business success possible. Respecting the individual means ensuring that the workplace is free of discrimination and harassment. Our commitment to equal employment and diversity is a global one as we serve customers and employ people around the world. We see it as a business imperative that is essential to thriving in a competitive global marketplace.”

WTF? Please kill me now…this one is so bad I am nearly speechless. Can anyone who does not recognize this company even figure out what business they are in? They are a global publishing, financial, information and media services conglomerate. Clearly, this mission statement will provide absolutely no guidance in helping editors decide what or what not to publish.

Here’s a great example of one that was full of high ideals:

“Respect, integrity, communication, and excellence.”

It’s easy to remember and it would have been nice if they used it for guidance, but this company falsified data and lost a lot of people’s life savings. Many of you will remember them: Enron Corp.

Finally, here is HCA or Hospital Corporation of America’s:

“Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life. In recognition of this commitment, we strive to deliver high quality, cost effective healthcare in the communities we serve. In pursuit of our mission, we believe the following value statements are essential and timeless. We recognize and affirm the unique and intrinsic worth of each individual. We treat all those we serve with compassion and kindness. We act with absolute honesty, integrity and fairness in the way we conduct our business and the way we live our lives. We trust our colleagues as valuable members of our healthcare team and pledge to treat one another with loyalty, respect and dignity.”

Again, no one is going to remember all that and take it to heart. It’s full of high ideals but if you can’t remember it, it’s not useful in decision making. How about simplifying it to the following:

“We provide cost effective and compassionate care that improves people’s lives.”

Now you have something everyone can remember and that can be used to help you make effective decisions during the course of everyday business.

Spending just a little bit of time setting the foundation of your company’s mission, in an easily applicable form, will go a long way toward building your company’s culture and assuring its future success.


You can follow Sam on Twitter: @SuperTaoInc




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