Getting back your sense of mission


Four quick stories to set the tone for my column this week:

First, at the beginning of a highly publicized college bowl game a few years ago, one of the television announcers commented on how driven one of the teams was to win the game. He said, “Great teams have a clear mission.”

Second, in his book, “The Best and The Brightest,” author David Halberstam recapped a conversation between General James Gavin, a highly decorated combat veteran, and then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey, in the Oval Office.

Just as the general was about to ask President Lyndon Johnson a question about Vietnam, the conversation was interrupted by a call the president had to take. The question, Gavin later recalled: “What is the mission of the troops we are sending to Vietnam?”

Third, in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wrote in an early 2010 column that as the nation began a new decade, the country’s watchwords should be “repair, rebuild and return.”

Her comment was in response to those in the media who’d called the new century’s first ten years a lost decade, perhaps the worst in a century.

Noonan stated the previous ten years had been so hard because people “…forgot the mission…” From Wall Street to Main Street, from Congress to religious institutions, from public schools to colleges, she sensed a “diminished sense of mission or one that has disappeared or is disappearing.”

And fourth, the flooding and devastation from Hurricane Harvey will call into question the mission and the commitment of local, state and federal government, as much of the state of Texas and elsewhere begins to recover from the worst natural disaster in decades in our country.

A mission statement provides focus, direction and defines what an organization does and for whom.

In the final quarter of the year, companies often go through a process to evaluate the past and plan for the future. Part of that means reviewing the organization’s mission statement for relevance and validity.

While many companies have mission statements, they are often too long. People cannot remember the mission statement unless it is on paper in front of them. Most employees don’t believe in the mission, for two reasons: first, it isn’t their mission; it is the mission of those at the top. Second, the mission statement doesn’t relate to what they do all day at work.

Chip Conley founded Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a San Francisco based hotel and restaurant chain. In his book “Peak,” he wrote that, “With respect to connecting our employees with the company and its mission, we have found that the simpler and more succinct the mission, the more powerfully it engages our employees.”

In the best-selling “Built to Last,” authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras did research proving that companies that focus on core values and a sense of purpose are more successful in the long term than those that are purely profit driven.

A mission statement should provide a sense of purpose for every employee and if it does not, something is not right: the mission is not simple, succinct or relevant enough to the employee.

For many employees, the only mission statement they know is the one that states: give me my paycheck on payday.

Who can blame them if their leaders have failed to enroll and engage them in any higher level of commitment?

Conley also wrote in “Peak” that there’s a qualitative difference between not being sick and feeling healthy or truly alive. This concept can and should also be applied to companies, most of which fall into the middle ground of not being sick but also are not truly alive.

If you want your company to come alive, starting today, create a short and resonating mission statement that has relevance for every employee.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those impacted by the flooding in Texas. For the record I worked and lived in Houston for three years, and met my wife there before we moved to Santa Clarita. We have many friends and former colleagues there. It’s a lot worse than the media is sharing.

Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies, and greater profitability. Please contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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