Your Company's Mission & Values Are Probably A Big Pile Of Nothing

I've paid attention to the mission, vision and values statements posted on the walls of several corporate offices I've visited recently. Nearly all of them use a lot of big, aspirational words that are combined to create long-winded phrases that are boring and generic -- and too often cliched. With all due respect to the success of the Fortune 500, its listing of mission and values statements quickly becomes obscure after the first dozen or so. 

I won't implicate any specific companies, but I'll cite some of the most commonly abused words: powered, innovation, integrity, honesty, trust, accountability, responsibility, solutions, excellence, superior, committed and standard. You get the idea. You'd think we're getting ready for an intense session of BS bingo.

The problem with so many mission and values statements is that they're more like superficial marketing slogans, something which humans  are increasingly programmed to disregard, ignore or distrust. That contrasts with true values, which are long-term attributes that people internalize and act on through good times and bad. 



Steven Blank, a retired entrepreneur and author of "The Four Steps To The Epiphany," said in a recent speech (18:33 in the video): "Ethics and values are not what you put in plaques or tell your employees... It's the stuff you practice when the stuff hits the fan."

And that's a fact. While articulating mission statements and values is key, the true expression of them is when a company's members -- leaders from all ranks -- actually live them out (or not). That's why actions, narratives and artifacts that reflect and validate mission and values should be consciously curated, communicated, celebrated and preserved.  They are far more credible and persuasive than the actual words -- especially the favored, hollow words -- relied upon as the foundation for most mission and values statements.

7 comments about "Your Company's Mission & Values Are Probably A Big Pile Of Nothing".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Mike Loomis from Eastco Worldwide, August 27, 2010 at 10:16 a.m.

    You speak the truth. In the "old days" I used to make M&V statements step #1. And although "managing by values" is key, I now look for PEOPLE (not plaques) who can actually make the tough choices.

  2. Greg Flory from imc2, August 27, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

    I've often thought that there's no better demonstration of what you truly care about than what you quietly do every day. I also think that it helps to understand what you're trying to achieve so you can consciously work toward a vision or greater purpose. In that sense, understanding why you're here (organization, brand, person, etc.) is a critical first step. The real work is the day-in, day-out expression of your purpose--animating and bringing it to life in a way that is authentic, real and relevant to what you do. Great points, Max.

  3. Bill Chambers from Bright Chapel Financial Services, August 27, 2010 at 10:51 a.m.

    I'm glad someone finally voiced this. I have always said that advertising is what you SAY about yourself, while good PR is the natural result of the good things you DO. So mnay CEOs, however, tend to view PR as a way of getting free advertising and so have their PR staff focus on spewing releases and schmoozing with editors. While there is some value to the latter, they result in minimal impact on the Public. So many M&V efforts are thrown up INSTEAD of taking the Action that will speak far louder.

  4. Josh Grotstein from SAS Investors, August 27, 2010 at 10:54 a.m.

    While I wholly agree with (and applaud) this observation and assessment, I think that there is a role to play for a VERY specific and focusing "mission"-esque and/or positioning statement...particularly for companies which are tending towards project creep.

    I.e., something that can remind everyone in the company that we're here to do X products/services for a specific customer Y and that we're going to distinguish ourselves by doing it faster/cheaper/better than our competition Z. This becomes useful as a quick benchmark against which to evaluate newly proposed projects and programs.

  5. Caroline Kawashima from social persuasion, August 27, 2010 at 11:20 a.m.

    As long as the task of administering mission and value statements are kept in HR, they will always remain limited in their capacity to truly come to life. Companies that get it realize that mission and values are essential and powerful enablers that motivate a workforce to a common purpose, and ultimately profit. They do this by ensuring that the mission and values they embody are pulled through every aspect of their operations, from the way they interview new hires to the way they treat customers to the way they empower employees.

  6. Russell Cross from Prentke Romich, August 27, 2010 at 12:10 p.m.

    I'm with Bill and Ted on this notion of a "mission statement" and ANY company can use their all-inclusive exhortation: "Be excellent to each other." Anything else is just an exercise in linguistic legerdemain and verbal vapidity.

  7. Rich Benci from Benci Consulting, LLC, August 27, 2010 at 4:15 p.m.

    The Mission/Value statements that are written for public display will always be meaningless because too many people get involved to make sure it's "correct" ... turning a vibrant idea into plain vanilla.

    However, having good Mission and Value philosophies for internal communications is a great way to provide a lens for decision-making throughout the organization and can be much more evocative. The public-facing statement should focus on the company's Vision (usually something that states how the company will make the world a better place), so visitors and employees can feel good about the company.

Next story loading loading..