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A little late for the recent thread, but informative and amusing at the same
Posted at 1:46 a.m. PDT Friday, August 15, 1997
Your mission: to read, enjoy this article BY MARK LEIBOVICH
Mercury News Staff Writer
Our mission today: to discuss the ubiquity, utility and absurdity of
corporate mission statements.
In pursuing this mission, the Mercury News will endeavor to maintain a
superior standard of accuracy, fairness and satisfaction for our most valued
asset, our readers. In addition, we will help optimize financial results for
our owners, the shareholders of our parent company, Knight-Ridder Inc.
We are committed to reporting the results of a recent survey that
demonstrates the ubiquity of corporate mission statements.
Bain and Company, a Boston-based consulting firm, polled 500 companies
nationwide, 90 percent of which said they had written official mission
statements within the last five years. Bain concluded that mission
statements -- sometimes also called ``vision statements'' -- are the single
most popular management trend today.
We are committed to offering a possible explanation for this proliferation.
Global competition and the speed of progress have confused some companies
about their identity, said David Graulich, a San Bruno-based commentator and
syndicated columnist on workplace issues.
``You have a lot of people these days who have no idea what business
they're in,'' said Graulich, who once helped draft a mission statement for a
Fortune 500 beverage company that ``read like a blend of the Bible, the
Koran, the Betty Crocker cookbook and Amy Vanderbilt on etiquette.''
Graulich said mission statements can prove useful by forcing a firm to
distill its purpose into a few sentences. Nonetheless, he said he is no fan
of them. ``It incorporates an element of nausea in me,'' he said.
We are committed to providing testimony in favor of mission statements
from a Silicon Valley CEO who uses Star Wars analogies. ``It's like when
people in Star Wars are attacking the Death Star,'' said Steve Perlman,
president and CEO of WebTV Networks Inc. in Palo Alto. ``Red Leader said,
`Stay on Target, Stay on Target.' '' With a strong, concise mission
statement, Perlman said, ``Your band of rebels can conquer the Death Star.''
Perlman and his company co-founders, Phil Goldman and Bruce Leak, composed
their corporate credo -- ``To make the Internet as accessible and compelling
for consumers as broadcast television is today'' -- in just 10 minutes. But,
Perlman said, it took an additional hour to ``make the document bulletproof.''
Upon which, the mission statement was placed in WebTV's employee handbook,
posted on the company's Web site and invoked frequently at management
Every big decision the company makes is weighed against these 15 words,
Earlier this year, when Perlman, Goldman and Leak entertained a purchase
offer from Microsoft Corp., they considered their decision in light of their
``We asked ourselves, `Is this a way to best bring the Internet to the
masses?' '' Perlman said. ``And we decided, `Yes.' ''
Of course, it also helped that Microsoft threw $425 million into the deal.
We are committed to positing a theory of why mission statements seem so
pervasive in Silicon Valley -- even though we have no empirical proof
whatsoever that suggests they are more pervasive here than anywhere else.
Mission statements are commonly displayed on the walls and Web sites of
Silicon Valley firms -- just as Dilbert cartoons that mock mission
statements are commonly displayed in many cubicles.
Some theorize that it has to do with the preponderance of start-up
companies here. Mission statements are a vital tool at start-ups, said Matt
Glickman, co-founder of the Internet start-up BabyCenter, which strives ``to
be the most trusted and complete self-help resource for expectant and new
Glickman and his co-founder, Mark Selcow, composed the BabyCenter mission
statement to help them arrive at a common focus. ``It is tempting not to
write a mission statement when you're so busy at a start-up,'' he said.
``But it's important to have for a sense of purpose.'' It took them a few
months to arrive at even the broad theme of the statement, followed by two
marathon sessions to gnash out the final wording.
``Start-up companies live and die by consensus, and the forces that drive
the formation of a mission statement are life and death,'' said Jeff Leane,
vice president for new ideas at Emerge Consulting, a Palo Alto-based
Internet consulting firm that ``helps its clients identify and enable new
business opportunities that use the Internet.''
Leane learned the value of mission statements at his last company, Andersen
Consulting. There, company partners reportedly must buy lunch if they cannot
recite the company's mission statement -- ``To help our clients change to be
more successful'' -- on demand.
We are committed to categorizing four genres of mission statement.
1) The Inspirational Mission Statement (Silicon Graphics Inc.): ``Our
mission is to inspire dramatic change in what users expect from their
computers, allowing people to create, capture and communicate their ideas as
2) The Clinical Mission Statement (Cypress Semiconductor, San Jose): ``We
will join America's top 10 semiconductor companies in 1997 by achieving $1
billion in sales, with more than $250 million in pretax profit.''
3) The Marketing Slogan as Mission Statement (Jell-O): ``Jell-O is fun.''
4) The Passive-Aggressive Mission Statement: (San Jose Mercury News
Editorial Art Department): ``We do stuff.''
We are committed to pointing out that some people are taking their mission
statements home with them.
Rafael Weinstein, an Internet entrepreneur from Berkeley, knows a family
that drafts a ``family mission statement'' every two years.
``It was a household constitution that outlined what was acceptable and
what was not acceptable,'' Weinstein said. ``I think it was very positive.''
We are committed also to providing a forum for those who do not think
mission statements are very positive.
``Clarifying a mission statement is like deciding what church you want to
go to,'' said Sam Kaner, president of Community at Work, a San
Francisco-based organizational development firm. ``It's not for everyone.''
Consider David Graulich, who espouses the notion that mission statements
exist to foster the illusion that companies serve a higher purpose.
``People like to make the pretense that they're driven by something more
than making money,'' he said. Graulich suggests a genetic link between
people who are inspired by mission statements and those who enjoy company
In the go-go valley, the biggest criticism of mission statements is that
they can be a monumental waste of our golden commodity -- time.
``I would be impressed by any company that promised never to waste . . .
valuable working time in wrangling over a mission statement,'' said Jeff
Lloyd, an evangelist at Apple Computer Inc. ``Mission statements seem to be
a product of some weird middle-management culture that is trying to justify
Ironically, Lloyd points out, he is the child of two missionaries.
We are committed to re-evaluating this report in one year.