Why Mission Statements are Bogus

I’m in Napa Valley at a PR industry conference and just attended an interesting presentation by Jason Jennings, author of "Think Big. Act Small."

Jenning’s book examines the traits of those companies that have produced 10 percent increases in growth and profits every year for the past decade. Incredibly, fewer than 20 companies can lay claim to such an accomplishment.

Those that can share similar traits (i.e. casusal dress codes, a CEO who gets his/her hands dirty by staying close to the customer and pursuing a long-term cause as opposed to short-term quarterly earnings). They also share one other trait: none of the great companies had a mission statement.

That finding really hit home with me. I’ve always thought mission statements were totally bogus and were nothing more than warm and fuzzy statements with lots of feel good words. Just because an organization says it does something doesn’t make it so. Rather, it’s the actions of an organization that define its success, its points of differentiation and ultimately, its brand and reputation.

The best mission statement in the world will fall flat if its products, people and performance are mediocre or less. I once worked for a $500 million integrated marketing agency whose mission statement was "we build brands over time and sales over night." I remember the snickering when the CEO read it out loud to us and had it posted along all the hallways. It was purely aspirational, had no basis in reality and, in point of fact, actually alienated clients, prospects and employees. The company went out of business about five years ago.

Not that we’re remotely close to the organizations profiled in Jennings’ book, but you won’t see any mission statements in our hallways. That’s because we believe actions speak louder than words. Especially the words of mission statements.

4 thoughts on “Why Mission Statements are Bogus

  1. I see positioning statements as a different animal than mission statements. When done properly, positioning statements are critically important in terms of defining exactly what differentiates an organization from its competitor set. Sadly, very few public relations firms do a good job of crafting unique and sustainable positioning statements, relying instead on such mind-numbing epithets as “we prefer to be judged by the company we keep” accompanied by a grouping of client logos.

  2. I just read your interesting remarks about mission statements and wanted to know if you felt the same about positioning statements that some public relations firms tout as being so mission critical, pardon the pun.

  3. I totally agree. It’s the warm and fuzzy adjectives and the run-on sentences that render most mission statements meaningless.

  4. Guy Kawasaki agrees with you. In his book, Art of the Start, he recommends coming up with a simple mantra, preferably three words or less, that succinctly describes your core values. Some examples he gave:
    Wendy’s: “Healthy fast food”
    FedEx: “Peace of mind”
    Nike: “Authentic athletic performance”
    Guy Kawasaki: “Empower entrepreneurs”
    And with those few words, you then live it and make it happen.