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Junk your mission statements

March 25, 2001

"If you do things the way they've always been done, you'll get what you've always got"

- Jack Welch

Conventional wisdom is not necessarily right all the time. It's an unwritten rule of nature that for a few to succeed, many must fail. Call it an offshoot of Darwin's "survival of the fittest" theory. This applies to the stock markets, career growth (that's why there's only one CEO), and companies as well. If the way to succeed were well known and universally followed, it follows that most people and companies would be successful. But it isn't so. Sometimes, to get ahead, you have to toss conventional wisdom aside and have the courage to do things differently.

As I look at most companies, I see several management practices that seem "logical" and "common sense", but are outright wrong. I may not be offered a contract to write a management book for a long while, so I'll use this wonderful medium called the Internet to put my thoughts on management down and dispel a few of the myths about management. Some of these topics include core competence v/s diversification, leadership and vision, recruitment, company meetings, performance appraisals, incentives, motivation, exit interviews, marketing strategies, project management, quality assurance, etc. (I know thats a lot of stuff, not to mention a very unorganised list :)

I hope to dwell on at least one topic every week. Let's hope I find the time to write all this. I have been inspired to do this by Joel Spolsky, who writes an absolutely fantastic column on software management on his site, Joel on Software. I highly recommend that you read ALL the articles in his archives. Most of them are top notch. I can empathise with him in several instances, since I'm in the software business myself.

My focus this week is on that most useless of management concepts, the "mission statement".

Does the following seem familiar?

"[Your favourite company] is committed to satisfying our customer's needs with products that are of the highest quality and adhere to world-class processes, in time, every time, while keeping in mind the best interests of our shareholders and investors."

Most mission statements I've seen revolve around this theme. If you wanted me to put the basic message in bulleted points, here's what it would be:

Well... DUH!

You mean you actually needed a Harvard MBA CEO to figure all this out? Really? Well, let me give you a little tip. These are the basic aims of any business, and putting it up on high quality paper and laminating it doesn't change anything magically. But yet companies set up committees who spend days away at a resort trying to figure out what their mission statement should say. There are even books devoted to this, just in case you needed some lessons in business basics.

The truth is that the mission statement is just an exercise in egocentric pats on the company's own back. What's sad is that the CEO usually believes that by hatching a mission statement, the company will suddenly see the light and all employees will start working towards a common goal. It doesn't happen, folks. You need a vision for the company (and not a redundant mission statement) and convince your employees that you can make it happen. If you have to explain the blatantly obvious to them and tell them that they are supposed to make high quality products, you've got a seriously sick company. Fix the root problem first.

If you want a mission statement, save yourself some time and money and go to Catbert's mission statement generator.

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