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Mission statements that do not really mean anything:

Updated: Jun 18, 2018

In their new book, Solving The Strategy Delusion: Mobilizing People And Realizing Distinctive Strategies, Marc Stigter and Cary Cooper reflect on the dire mission statements that some companies insist on inflicting on the world. A wonky or uninspiring mission statement is possibly a sign that nobody at the top is really thinking very hard, or very clearly, about what the business is for.

Stigter and Cooper report that one company tells the world: “We are a market-focused, process-centred organisation that develops and delivers innovative solutions to our customers, consistently outperforms our peers, produces predictable earnings for our shareholders, and provides a dynamic and challenging environment for our employees.” Which doesn’t really tell us a lot, does it?

‘Bad missions statements are not just comically tedious. They are a strategic weakness’

Another says they exist: “To provide products and services to the market which meet or exceed the reasonable expectations of our customers. Satisfying our customers with the appropriate level of quality is a primary goal and a fundamental element of our business mission.”

My pulse rate remained steady while working my way through that one. But bad missions statements are not just comically tedious. They are a strategic weakness. And if employees are not clear about what the purpose of the business is, things will go wrong.

A new report published recently by the Chartered Management Institute, called The Moral DNA Of Performance” based on research with 2,500 managers, found strong correlation between (admittedly self-assessed) levels of behaviour and healthy scores for employee engagement, customer satisfaction and commercial success. But this should not be surprising. Good behaviour is habit and character-forming, as Aristotle knew.

A problem with “corporate social responsibility”, as it is widely understood and practised, is the misguided belief that a bit of nice behaviour added on top can make up for horrible behaviour going on elsewhere in the business. CSR as PR cannot work.

This is why ethics really do matter. They are what you are about. When things go wrong you do not have a PR problem. You have a real problem. And that is why business leaders always need to have a good answer to the question posed at the start of this column: why are you in business?

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