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Meaning Inspired by Mission

change leadership joy at work Feb 02, 2019
Written by Ed Cook
Is there anything that brings on the overwhelming urge to yawn more than a corporate mission or vision statement? This is supposed to be the company’s description of what it means to work there. It is the expression of direction. But, (yawn) is often an example of mediocrity and stale wordplay. What makes me incredibly sad is that people crave purpose. Everyone, customers, employees, the lunch lady, everyone. And it is not all about money, as in cost for customers and pay for employees. It is deeper. Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, highlights the impact of intrinsic factors like autonomy, mastery, and purpose as much more powerful drivers than money.   

If everyone desires an expression of direction, then companies would start to describe that direction in a statement that has meaning, real meaning. But how?

One way NOT to do this is with Corporate Mad-Libs. I love this phrase! This is the corporate jargon version of the Mad Libs” books born in 1958 where you inserted adverbs and nouns and other parts of speech to create funny stories. Every corporate citizen knows about these (lack of?) direction statements:
  • We will maximize our synergies to optimize shareholder value
  • Our vision is to be the premier provider of outstanding services to our customers
  • We will enable the creative energy of our most valuable asset, our employees
These are meaningless. Worse, they pretend to have meaning when clearly they do not.  They are corporate blather, insipid rhetoric, dunderhead inspiration. I could go on with the Mad-Libs but you get the point. One way to tell if your purpose statement is useless is to state it as the opposite. If it’s foolish, then your statement was not all that valuable. For example:

We will maximize shareholder value.  >> We will minimize shareholder value.

Of course, the opposite is idiocy, so why say your purpose is to maximize shareholder value. It doesn’t provide any direction for decision-making. It doesn’t inspire. It doesn’t do anything of value. These statements meet the test:
  • Zappos: “To deliver happiness”  
  • Life is Good: "To spread the power of optimism"
  • JetBlue: "To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground"
To get more specific, these are vision statements. They describe the bold future of the organization. The mission statement has the particulars of how a company does this and for whom. The two statements are linked because the vision statement should inform the mission statement. I like the three vision statements above because they do not get bogged down in the industry specifically. They are bold statements of something well beyond themselves. The mission statements, however, do speak to the industry and the specific customers. They provide more of the guideposts to make decisions.

I’ve previously written about the “Leadership Bubble” as a way to help employees grow and learn. The mission statement should be a tool that helps the leader determine how tight or loose the bubble should be because it provides the indicators of success. By bringing their employees minds back to the mission statement, leaders can help focus the work that they do making them more successful as individuals and the mission more likely to be fulfilled. The vision statement should be the thing that gets people interested in coming to work. A vision statement can even be for a project. In Roxanne’s post: “How To Lead A Change You Dislike And Win For Your People,” she guides a leader through the process of dealing with their own feelings about a change. What if they were inspired by the change instead of turned off? The leader’s energy would flow through to the team. A well-crafted vision statement can do that.