Like most start-ups, we launched ourselves with a big mission that was going to change the game. Now, several years out, it appears our mission isn’t going to deliver to the extent we had hoped. How do we come up with another?
—Gerald McLaughlin, Shanghai, China
What an honest question. And an admirable one, too.
First, because so few leaders have the candour to admit, “Our approach to the market seems to be tanking. We need to change direction,” and, second, because very few leaders actually get the point of forging a company mission with any real grit and meaning.
Even fewer work with their people to come up with the shortlist of values that will make their mission come alive. We just don’t get it! Sure, as your case seems to suggest, having a mission doesn’t guarantee winning but, in our experience, not having one invariably spurs the opposite.
Sound obvious? We would have thought so too, except that for each of the past three years, we have conducted a two-day seminar with about 100 CEOs. The first year, we thought we would breeze through the session on mission and values in about a half-hour before moving on to matters sure to be more pertinent to top executives, such as mergers and acquisitions.
To our shock, more than 60% of the CEOs in the room did not have a company mission, and 80% had no explicit set of company values describing how employees should behave in order to achieve the mission. The second and third years were basically no different, except that we were prepared for several hours of discussion on these two messy topics.
Messy because the terms mission and values, hijacked by business school professors and consultants over the past few decades, have largely devolved into fat-headed jargon. Practically no one can figure out what they really mean.
And so, like the CEOs we have worked with, they sort of ignore them, or gussy up a vague package deal along the lines of, “Our mission is to be the best fill-in-the-blank company in our industry,” and, “Our values are excellence, integrity, and customer service.”
In other words, “Business as usual.”
To answer your question then, here’s how we would suggest you create a new mission for your company and, as important, a new set of values.
Basically, the process starts with you, the leader. The mission is your responsibility since you will be held accountable for it in the end. Yes, listen to everyone who has something smart to say about your market and product. Listen especially to contrarians and customers. Gather data galore. But then, make a choice about how your company will win in its business. Don’t mince words!
Remember Nike’s old mission, “Crush Reebok”? That’s directionally correct. By the same token, Google’s mission statement is not something mamby-pamby such as “To be the world’s best search engine.” It’s: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That’s excellent—simultaneously inspirational and achievable and, best of all, completely graspable.
With your mission set, more people within the company must get involved in establishing values. After all, you are trying to describe the best behaviours of your best employees on their best days, and in such graphic language that the behaviours are easy to emulate, measure and reward. For example, consider some of the best values we have heard: Never lose a superstar. Communicate bad news quickly to each other and clients. Take personal ownership of results, not process. Unlike the usual platitudes and drivel, those mean something. They compel action.
And that’s what you want, both with your mission and your values—especially now as you change course. Good luck setting sail again.
Would you hire someone with an online business degree?
—Robert Rodriguez, Chicago
Sure, if the person was smart and talented enough. That’s our answer today, by the way. If you had asked us your question a year ago, we would have really hesitated. Recently, we have started to meet people with online degrees, and they tend to have a few traits in common. They’re older, they’re working and are unable financially to pause for two years and they’re hungry as could be to break open new possibilities in their careers.
Now, an MBA from a reputable university will always have cachet. And the experience of attending a campus-based programme has many inimitable virtues. But to count a candidate out based on an online degree may be short-sighted. Those people working all day and studying online all night have just the kind of “grrr” most companies could use.
©2008/by NYT Syndicate
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Campaign readers can email them questions at winning @livemint.com. Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.