Re: Mission Statements

Subject: Re: Mission Statements
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 09:19:43 -0500

At 06:43 AM 8/10/97 -0700, you wrote:

>The objectives are great, but I don't see why you need the mission
>statement to define them. Does somebody's mission statement say "To be
>second-best in documentation quality" or maybe "To be almost as
>successful as Microsoft"?

The mission statement is the goal, if you prefer that language. And it
should be more a voyage of self-discovery than a political brochure. It
needn't be as lame as "to be almost as successful as...", although if that's
your mission, so be it. But let's say your mission statement is "To sell
more software seats than anybody else in our industry." That's not QUITE the
same as "To be as successful as..." because "success" is a loose term. And
it's quite different from "To be the best supplier" or "To produce the best

The point to the mission statement is that it establishes a touchstone for
success and a reason for being. You may have objectives, but why are they in
existence? What great purpose are you and your staff serving? Nothing great
is ever accomplished without some kind of mission understanding, spelled out
or otherwise. On a three-part series on the origins of Silicon Valley, Steve
Jobs was recalling when he recruited John Scully from Pepsi to become
Apple's CEO. Jobs nailed him with a stare and asked "Do you want to sell
sugar water the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change
the world?" Mission statement, folks. Scully, a seasoned and savvy
long-term, high-level, high-roller executive, responded like a high school
quarterback. If the mission statement is bold and grabs the imagination,
you'll produce beyond your headiest dreams. It enshrines what you expect,
and drives home that you'll tolerate nothing less than commitment to that
mission, day in and day out. It's why football teams put signs in their
locker rooms: "On to the finals!" and "Super Bowl Bound!" If you don't
believe in the mission, it's fluff and management PR crap. If you believe in
it, you're suddenly taller, stronger, faster, and tougher.

>If you want to call the mission statement a starting point, a place to
>say "okay, here's the goal, how do we get there?" that's fine. But it
>shouldn't be something framed in gold and idolized by all employees. The
>objectives are another story. They can be displayed, perhaps with some
>sort of progress meter for meeting them. Something dynamic. A static
>sign of some lame mission statement will become just as invisible as the
>photo of corporate headquarters on the wall of the lobby.

I agree. Put the mission statement behind glass and bow to it occasionally
and you've just wasted your treasure. But I disagree that objectives are
good enough. They're just road markers. The mission statement establishes
the destination. It's been said that "a man's reach should forever exceed
his grasp". That's what a good mission statement does. Whose lives shall we
change? How are we going to justify our labors? What star are we steering
by? What is our cause? Not "What does the boss want us to think is our
cause?". That's diaper fill. If that's all your mission statement is, then
skip it and get some more work done. The work may not lead anywhere in
particular, but it's more productive than a window-dressing session.
>Your last sentence that I quoted above -- "Now, all you need is to
>ensure that management is on board, too, so there's a perception of
>unwavering support." -- is the downfall of most quality programs, IMO.
Oh, gag. Don't remind me. Urp. Ugh. There's nothing more pitiable than a
vigorous, driven, mission-certain department struggling for notice within a
tired old company framework. That's why many companies are tolerant of
"skunk works" like the one at Lockheed. Peters tumbled to the importance of
skunk works decades ago. The Lockheed skunk works under such people as Ben
Rich and Kelly Johnson put American military aviation into positions of
unassailable dominance for many decades. Lockheed didn't do it. Lockheed
wasn't sure it wanted a skunk works. But read any history of that bunch and
you'll soon discover that they knew their mission, even when they couldn't
articulate it. Sometimes, you just have to know.

I'd also want to pick a tiny bone with attaching "mission statement" to
"quality programs". I know many companies do it because they're told "You
need a mission statement to define your quality standards." True enough, but
that's like saying that you need to know how many calories you're eating
before you can go on a diet. If you want to keep eating, you'll do it even
if you know there are too many calories. Self-relevation only works when
it's real and respected.

Enough pontificating. Back to PageMaker and PDF discussions.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
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