In the introduction to their book Say It and Live It, a collection of mission statements from 50 organizations, Patricia Jones and Larry Kahaner write that as they were doing their research they were impressed with how passionate company officials were about their mission statements. They referenced a 1994 survey that found managers were extremely satisfied with their mission statements and used them far more than any other management tool.
Managers utilize and value mission statements, but what does the average employee think about his or her company’s mission?
To find out, we conducted an informal survey of employees in our area and asked them what their organization’s mission was, how they felt about it, and why. Two-thirds (67 percent) of employees said their organization had a mission. Almost one-third (30 percent) of those who said their organization had a mission could not tell us what that mission was. More than 90 percent felt mission statements were important.
If employees and managers think missions are important, but people don’t know what their mission is, we have work to do—both in crafting them so they are memorable and in better communicating them on an ongoing basis. After analyzing the missions people could remember and felt committed to, they had the following characteristic:
- They were written to be remembered. For example, when they were long, they were divided into sections or used parallelism, alliteration, or other writing techniques to help people assimilate, understand, and remember the information.
Following are some examples of successful organizations that have great mission statements.
Ben & Jerry’s mission has three memorable parts: "Our product mission is to make, distribute, and sell the finest quality, all-natural ice cream and related products in a wide variety of innovative flavors made from Vermont dairy products. Our social mission is to operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in the structure of society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life of a broad community—local, national, international. Our economic mission is to operate the company on a sound financial basis of professional growth, increasing value for our shareholders, and creating career opportunities and financial rewards for our employees."
Gerber’s mission inspires commitment by going beyond the product and taking responsibility for the end result: "The people and resources of the Gerber Products Company are dedicated to assuring that the company is the world leader in, and advocate for, infant nutrition, care, and development. Accomplishment of the mission is intended to provide healthy starts in the lives of all children served by Gerber, above average returns on the investment of Gerber’s long-term shareholders, and rewarding employment for Gerber associates."
It is interesting to note more than half of Southwest Airlines mission is about treating their employees well. It’s no wonder these employees deliver the best customer service in the business: "The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit. We are committed to provide our employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of Southwest Airlines. Above all, employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization they are expected to share externally with every Southwest customer."
Are missions important? You bet. Spend time debating and crafting memorable and powerful mission statements that are more than just words on a page. They have to be a reflection of who you are. IBI