Business mission statements are often like these -
Add a centre of excellence. Aspire to being ‘world-class’. Set the industry benchmark.
Could any of these emerge from a thorough and systematic strategic planning process? Did the participants know what these statements meant? Could they use them to communicate the strategic intent of the enterprise? If so, then fine. Often it is not so.
Often, the enterprise mission is a primary input to strategic planning. It has the status of the governing corporate objective. It equates with the enduring purpose of the enterprise. Yet, most of them are choices from options open to the firm.
Some of these choices are to do with the success of the firm. Some may be choices about how to behave towards key interest groups. Others do not seem to represent choices at all.
How many firms choose to be dishonest? Why claim honesty in a mission?
Many mission statements speak about territory, product type or range, marketing, a stance on quality, and a whole lot of stuff about corporate conduct or values.
However, except by means of a careful, corporate strategic planning process, I cannot see a sensible way of deciding what any given firm mission statement should be.
Consider this business mission. ‘We aim to be the leading supplier of corrosion resistant coatings to the boat building industry on the West Coast’. How does this mission guide strategic decision making in the next few years?
The mission statement says this business will stay just what it is, and where it is.
This really is no help for the purposes of strategic planning.
At best, mission statements are for public relations. At worst, they are managerial ego trips.
Mission statements should be either of two things.
First, they can be outputs of the corporate planning process. They are not inputs o it.
Second, admit that they are part of a public relations exercise.
One firm even thought of making ‘strategic vision statements’. Within this, they use a mission statement to describe its moral code.
I believe that ‘profit’ is the sole purpose of a company. Some people are highly motivated by this aim. These include ambitious managers, shareholders, and pension funds. Others such as many employees, environmentalists are less keen. Let us make use of a mission as a rallying cry. To motivate the troops try something like this. ‘We aim to be one of the nation’s top wealth creators.’
I have another issue with mission statements. They seldom refer to the beneficiaries of the enterprise. They lack this key element. ‘We aim to become the world’s leading left handed widget maker.’ Who benefits?
Another big firm says ‘Respect, integrity, communication, and excellence’. Who benefits?
Can you guess the company?
Difficult is it not? This is a ‘business mission’ that is so generalized as to be almost devoid of meaning. Definitely no beneficiaries out in the open here! No, they were well hidden at least for a time. Why? Because that statement was supposed to be the business mission of…Enron!
A firm's mission as a statement of purpose should say something about owners or shareholders. It should also say something about what the company is going to do for them.
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