The mission thing

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 101 views 

A month or so ago, I mentioned to a friend and colleague that we needed to plan the direction of our firm over the next couple of years. He responded that first we really needed to develop a mission statement for the firm (as we don’t have one). I rudely cut him off at his knees and abruptly stated that I knew what direction the firm needed to go and that there was no need to invest time into developing a mission statement. It was a waste of time and nobody uses their company’s mission statement anyway.

You know you have a good friend and colleague when they tolerate your rudeness without personal affront.

But since I have the greatest respect for his opinions, in the back of my mind I have been pondering whether a mission statement has any real value. All the Fortune 500 companies have mission statements. Ten to 15 years ago, mission statements were all the rage. But are they anything more than an inspirational statement on a plaque on the wall in a company’s lobby?

Last Friday morning I was sitting with 18 other CPAs from around the country picking each other’s’ brains on how to improve our firms. I decided to pop the question, “How many of you have a mission statement for your firm?” I was surprised to see about 15 hands lifted to indicate their firms had a mission statement.

But here is the good part.

As the discussion progressed, only a few could even tell the group what their mission statement said. My bias against investing time in developing a mission statement was being confirmed. But the discussion continued and as I listened more to the three or four CPA’s in this group who actually knew and used their mission statements, I became convinced that if developed and used properly a mission statement for a firm or company of any size could be beneficial.

For the uninitiated, a mission statement is a brief statement of the reason a company is in business. It is a short statement of the company’s purpose and core values. When I see a company’s mission statement hidden on their website or framed in their lobby, the mission statement seems to be a nice platitude that nobody really attends. And in most cases that is correct.

But for the few CPAs in my group who believed in and used their mission statements, it was the process of developing that mission statement that was valuable to their firms. It was the deep thinking about what was important to their clients and their employees. It in effect became their compass where they continually asked themselves when making a decision, “Is this consistent with our firm’s purpose and is aligned with our core values?”

But maybe more important for these champions of developing and using a mission statement, they used their mission statement to teach new employees and remind existing employees why they were coming to work each day. Their mission statement was not a platitude, but scripture. They would discuss with their employees how to make difficult decisions where their actions were consistent with the firm’s purpose and core values. The firm’s mission statement became part of the firm’s culture. In the end, the greatest benefit flowed to the firm’s clients, the only real reason any firm or company is in business.

I still believe for the great majority of businesses, their mission statement is a platitude developed for a plaque for the company’s lobby, never used and of little real value. Most people, including business owners, can’t even quote this brief statement of their company’s purpose and core values. But it seems to me that for the minority of businesses that actually develop and use a mission statement, it is an important tool for the company’s success.

Year’s back another platitude became popular: “Diversity is our strength.” I believe that listening to and considering different points of view from different genders, generations, and cultures is important.

But diversity in purpose is any organization’s weakness. Only unity of purpose provides real strength and every business needs unity of purpose. As of today I am convinced any business can greatly benefit from developing a mission statement if that mission statement becomes scripture and not platitude.

Our firm will invest the time and energy to develop and write a purposeful mission statement. I’ll let you know how it goes.

For all you backsliders whose company has a mission statement and you just can’t quite remember what it says, maybe it’s time to walk the aisle and recommit.