Good character matters in people, it matters in organisations too

Good Character Matters In People; It Matters In Organisations Too

Empty words and missing statements

In a recent interview, I was asked for a copy of my company’s mission or values statement. Eek! Making a mission statement is something that I’ve resisted for some time so you can imagine my awkwardness at their request and the resulting exchange about why I don’t have one.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a written business manifesto of what I believe to be true, I have a clear brand essence document and I even have a detailed customer, supplier and staff journey mapped out. Just not a mission statement.

In this article:

You just want me to 'just what ...?'

Then came the request that, “Can you just quickly put something together, it’s just a formality”.

Oh dear. At that point I felt an aneurism coming on.

My mission is not just a formality — you see what I believe is hard won, hard fought and even harder protected. What I believe connects to who I am, the person I want to be and the person I want to stay – there is no ‘just a formality’ about it. Like Geoff Hetherington, The Clarity CEO, I believe that there is no work life balance, there is only life. Taking it one step further, I believe that who you are is the only lasting and unique value that you can bring to solving a problem – whether that be business, personal or somewhere in between. A mission is never just a formality.

So, in my newly accepted mission to craft a mission statement, I came across this concise and compelling list of four key corporate values statement.

  • Communication
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Excellence

Clear concise words expressing value

When it comes to clear concise words to put in one’s company mission statement it’s hard to beat these don’t you think? Maybe they’re the same words (or at least express the same sentiments) that already make up your own company mission statement. Perhaps now you’re wondering if you should consider rewriting part of your mission statement in light of the clarity above.

Here is the problem. These four attractive sounding corporate values were the stated corporate values of the failed US energy giant Enron. Their 2001 collapse is the largest bankruptcy of a publicly held company in history and saw the fifth largest accountancy firm in the world Arthur Anderson, indicted for illegally shredding massive amounts of the company’s records. Along with this list of documents were, I suspect, their stated corporate values too.

Just as good character matters in people, it matters in organisations too.

When you think Corporate Mission Statement, what do you think?

An honest assessment of many company mission statements brings to mind words such as empty, weak, generalisations, bland, toothless, politically correct, meaningless, diluted and straight out dishonest.

I confess – mission statements, company values initiatives and ‘bland house rules’ statements kinda creep me out. (There I said it!)

Promising something with no intention or ability to deliver just seems obviously wrong. The fact that the in-house marketing department insists that ‘you need one because that’s what all the cools kids have now’ just seems to add insult to injury. If they’re honest, many companies would probably prefer not to have them.

An empty statement is not a harmless statement

In today’s interconnected and increasingly transparent world, these empty statements are anything but harmless marketing bluff as many executives like to believe. My lack of love for empty mission statements stems not from their being inherently insipid, but because like a week old pizza in the back of the fridge, when left unattended they can often develop a Zombie like caustic life of their own. Akin to the curse of the undead, these empty statements of intent serve to;

  • Generate cynical and disconnected employees
  • Alienate customers, while
  • Steadily undermining managerial credibility.

In the worst case scenario empty mission statements become the trigger for good employees to leave to seek sanctuary somewhere honest.

People leave a company's leadership - not the company

Creating a statement that you believe, is hard work. Living it is harder work and defending its place in your business is hardest still. If you’re not willing to do it right perhaps you shouldn’t go to the effort of crafting the mission statement, set of values or house rules list.

The last word

Without a mission statement, you can still run a good business, be a good person and do the right thing by your customer, suppliers and staff. But if you believe that clarity and publicly proclaimed standards are an important part of protecting your focus and staying the course you’re on, make your mission statement – but make it matter.

And if you’ve inherited an empty mission statement that has developed an undead life of its own, perhaps you need to lay it to rest.

Make it matter or put it to rest

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Blog Philosophy

'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It’s our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Living small does not serve the world—there is nothing enlightened about shrinking just so others won’t feel insecure around you. It’s only when we let our own life shine that we unconsciously give others permission to do the same, as we are liberated from our own fear.' Marianne Williamson - A Return to Love

Pic of Drew Browne - adviser

Drew Browne