In Pursuit of the Perfect Mission Statement
We spend grueling amounts of time working on the ultimate mission statement in business. From the strategy side, I’ve repeated metaphor after metaphor explaining the nuances between mission and vision statements.
The mission is the game plan for success, but your vision is how you’re going to change the world. We make sure that both are concise so the employees can memorize and repeat them like a scene from Full Metal Jacket: “This is my rifle, there are many like it, but this one is mine.”
We scrutinize the wording. We go through each sentence under a microscope like a surgeon with a scalpel removing a tumor.
We reflect on the meaning and etymology of each word. We question ourselves. Are we really innovative or are we just saying that? Will people think it was forced? Will they think we’re liars? Maybe we should run this past a focus group. Or at least let me ask my wife.
And at the end of the day…
Don’t give a shit.
It’s nice to think that they do, but they don’t. Gallup’s research shows that only slightly more than one-third of workers agree that their company’s mission statement makes them feel that their job is important. In manufacturing, this number drops from one-third to one-tenth. That is a gap worth discussing.
While brevity might be a solution to recall rates, the bigger issue is that this isn’t forming a bond between the business and the makers of your business. While HR teams have struggled to find a solution to this problem, the motivational poster companies have managed to do a poor job of promoting anything beyond sarcasm in the workplace.
Attempts at using front-line managers to beat mission statements into minds have resulted in more frustration. What works in the office won’t always resonate with the production floor.
The problem is that while leadership teams think big, makers think local.
In manufacturing facilities all over the world, when asked what matters to them, you get answers like these:
”I want to be able to make a good living and take care of my family.”
”We donate quite a lot to the local food shelf that makes me feel good about working here. And I make sure people know it comes from my company.”
”We fought tooth and nail to make sure that when the company was looking to close one of its plants, it wouldn’t be ours. We worked our tails off to make sure we were doing everything we could to be the most efficient.”
”You should see all the local sports teams we sponsor! And those kids and their parents really appreciate it.”
The idea of a local mission may seem counterintuitive to multi-location companies. After all, a corporate mission is created to unify every member across an organization to move in one strategic direction. Mission gives employees something bigger and more important to believe in and work for, but that doesn’t mean that is what matters to the makers of an organization.
The area that I grew up is often referred to as “God’s Country,” because there is a spot you can stand and see seven steeples of seven Catholic Churches. God’s Country is a perfect example of companies that invest in their communities.
Each of the towns has its manufacturing company: Crown Equipment in New Bremen, Dannon Yogurt in Minster, Clopay Garage Doors in Russia, Midmark in Versailles, et cetera. The competitive nature between the towns is incredible; after Minster built a new gymnasium for their basketball team, New Bremen built a new gymnasium with 2 more seats than the Minster gym. This was not a coincidence.
Each and every one of these businesses invest in their communities. The results are staggering.
Without any research, I can easily claim that Dark, Mercer, and Auglaize counties have a higher density of High School State Championship Trophies than anywhere else in Ohio. The businesses thrive on a similar level. Dannon Yogurt, which also has a second location in New Jersey, continues to expand its Minster operations because the cost savings in Ohio is .005 cents per cup; and they make a hell of a lot of yogurt each and every day.
One thing I can guarantee you is that my father who works at Crown cannot recite the mission statement, but he can tell you about the most recent community projects that owners are investing in.
Ultimately, leaders must recognize that the mission that matters most to makers is a local focus. Let that mission be about what is important to those who work there. Reach out to them. Ask them what the plant means to the community.
What would be lost if it went away? Invite everyone to speak and listen to their answers.
Ask them to imagine a threat to the plant remaining in business. What would they do to keep the doors open and deliver on their local mission?
Talk it over, but then implement. And don’t wait. Do it now.
Have a plan for internal communications to promote efforts.
Great entrepreneurs are changing the world with models that don’t just innovate and succeed, but also change the world for the better. Read my thoughts on purpose-driven business and the four steps to making yours a success.