First Line Manager: Mission Confused? Ignored? Aborted!

I wonder if we have gotten to the point where mission statements are ignored. Every organization seems to be creating a mission statement. How effective are these mission statements?

There are two reasons why anyone does anything; the one that sounds good and the real one. As a salesman, I learned if I could get to the real reason a customer would not buy; I had a better chance of selling my service. What is the real reason for mission statements? Who are they trying to sell the idea to?

Why have a mission statement? I looked into a book I purchased at the beginning of my career, “Management” by Peter F. Drucker. He states,” Only a clear definition of the mission and purpose of the business makes possible clear and realistic business objectives. It is the foundation for priorities, strategies, plans, and work assignments. It is the starting point for the design of managerial jobs and, above all, for the design of Managerial structures. (Page 75).”

I became interested in mission confusion this year when I read my college fraternity’s mission statement.

The fraternity stated mission is “To Develop Men of Principle for a Principled Life.” This is a great high minded concept. Is this stated mission part of an extensive marketing campaign asking for donations? The mission is written in large letters on my donation envelope. Or, is this stated mission the real purpose of our General Fraternity? If we look at the fraternity’s actions maybe we can determine its real mission? The fraternity has no formal training program to teach each member principle centered leadership. This would be very beneficial to our members. Also, our Fraternity will close a chapter for the improper actions of one or a few members. They will abandon the members of the chapter who do inculcate the fraternity’s stated mission. If the stated mission was “to protect the integrity of our fraternity” would 26 of the 138 chapters be under current discipline? This count does not include closed chapters. So it appears the real and hidden mission, as it should be, is to protect the integrity of our fraternity. The stated mission misleads chapters and causes them to ignore the actual hidden mission. So, my fraternity’s actions reveal the real mission; the hidden mission. Would the hidden mission if stated to the chapters be clearer? Absolutely. Would it make a difference?

In the “Addictive Organization (1988)” written by Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassell the authors make important statements about missions. Schaef states, “Grandiosity is one of the characteristics of the addictive system… It is gross self-importance. Grandiosity keeps the mission lofty and frequently unattainable… The mission is like a household god. As long as it is in the shrine, the organization is protected, even if what it is doing has little to do with the stated mission.” Here is the point. The real mission is hidden and the morale of the organization suffers. So, we have the blind leading the blind.

Why and for whom do organizations develop mission statements? This question led me to look back over my career to puzzle it out. Here is what I learned.

I started in management in 1971 with the following statement from the owner. He said, “Jim, we want our cost to be below 65% for food and labor.” It was understood to be common sense, the restaurant will have good service and food. I managed another restaurant and became the General Manager of his new motel. We had no mission statement; maybe, because I came in contact with the missionary every couple of weeks when I discussed issues with the owner.

I worked as a management trainee in a bread factory. We knew that our product quality could not slip if we wanted to stay in business. I saw the owner every day. No mission statement.

As a Territory Manager for Ecolabs (1975-78), I was trained in all our products, service requirements, and history. We had the best products and best service. We were the best trained sales force in the industry. Our products were not the cheapest, but, we guaranteed results for our customers. No mission statement.

In 1978, I started as a Junior Accountant with Alabama Power Company. I do not remember us having an overall mission statement. This came years later.

In 1984, I was chosen to head up a customer service committee for our division. We developed three programs featuring a video of examples of good customer service. The committee came up with a theme for our program, W.E.S.T – B.E.S.T. “Western Employees Striving to Be an Excellent Service Team.” This is the purpose we wanted to accomplish. We did not call it a mission. If we created this program today I bet we would have at least called it a vision, right.

On August 20, 1992, I was given a book by Carol Bennett a Tyson plant manager in Corner. The book is, “The Deming Management Method” by Mary Walton. The book changed the way I thought about being a first line manager. On page 135, it explains how Dr. Edward Deming and Henry Ford II worked together for three years to create a mission statement for the Ford Motor Company. This mission was presented in 1984 to the leaders of the company.

Here are some of the highlights of the mission. “Mission: Our mission is to improve continually our products and services to meet our customer needs… Values: How we accomplish our mission is as important as the mission… Our people are the source of our strength… our products are the end results of our efforts… profits are required to survive and grow. Guiding principles: Quality comes first… customers are the focus of everything we do… continuous improvement is essential to our success… We are a team… we must treat each other with trust and respect… dealers and suppliers are our partners… The conduct of our company worldwide must be pursued in a manner that is socially responsible and commands respect for its integrity and for its contributions to society… Our doors are open to men and women alike without discrimination and without regard to ethnic origin or personal belief.” If you notice this mission use common sense language so every employee can understand where the company is going.

Inspired by this book, I developed a similar statement for our office in 1993. I had been the business office manager of the Dora office for five years. We made great strides in our office operation. I wanted to solidify our progress push on to another level of service. Our program for the New Year was, “We Provide H.O.M.E Style Customer Service.” I wanted this program to focus on customer service and include “the how” we could do this best. So, the how was H.O.M.E. it meant; be HONEST with each other and our customers, be OPEN to others input and to change, be MOTIVATED to serve each other and our customers, and be ENTHUSIATIC about what we do. This program was effective because this is the way I was with them. We had developed a level of trust that made the program work. I left in 1996, several years later I went back to the office. The banner with our slogan was still there.

Years later I noticed in our company communication documents a phrase, “Always On.” All of us knew this was not true. Actually, my department was in charge of getting the power on when it went off. The statement was confusing to me. How about the employees in our call centers. What was their response when a customer without power said, “I thought you promised my power would be “Always On”? This statement was the wrong message. Maybe if it was “Always on duty to serve you.” More to the truth since we provided service 24/7/365. We did not know if this was a slogan or a mission statement? I do know we did not talk about it.

In 1998, I developed a mission statement for the dispatchers in our new control center. “When the lights are on, keep them on. When they go out get them back on as safety and quickly as possible.” I retired a few years ago. An employee phones me from time to time. He is in charge of training new members. He said, “Jim remember that mission you gave us about the lights? I always start the training with that statement.” This was internalized as our main purpose. Now that is a mission.

This is why mission statements are so important inside your organization. It is the statement of the most important purpose for your future endeavors. Your members are able to internalize this purpose and act accordingly. It has to be real; not one that sounds good. Most of this is common sense. If you have the wrong mission statement, the one that sounds good, you confuse everyone.

The point of a mission statement is simple. The right mission becomes the guiding light for people and the determination of all of an organization’s actions.

Let me repeat, Peter Drucker said, “It is the foundation for priorities, strategies, plans, and work assignments. It is the starting point for the design of managerial jobs and, above all, for the design of Managerial structures.”

5 Reasons Why You Need An Executive Coach

Many of the top CEOs in major global brands have an executive coach on retainer, but small businesses leaders can also benefit from this type of expertise. On average, one of the primary reasons many small businesses do not hire a coach is because of the expense, even though it would make sense for their group. Granted, executive coaches can be a significant expense, charging rates from $300, $1,000 or even $3,000 or more for one session.

Because the business world is now moving at an incredible pace with minimal margin for staying ahead on the competition as new ways of doing business and disruption are now baked into our collective DNA, an executive coach can be a great benefit to your company.

Exploring Ideas: Business coaches have experience across a broad swath of clients, and they bring that experience to their work with you. One of the top benefits of a business coach is the chance to have someone that is unbiased and outside of your organization help you think through new ideas and strategies. In the process of your speaking to a coach about thoughts that you’re thinking, a good coach will ask you questions that will test your thinking and in the process give you more insight.

Leadership Effectiveness: An executive coach can do something that probably no one on your small business team will do–give you feedback. Sometimes business owners have a trusted executive that works with them that will challenge their skills and effectiveness. But, more often than not, that is not the case. A small business owner can easily be in an environment where few people, if any, will inform the leader about how he’s doing. An executive coach is someone that will not have any doubts helping you understand the “why” of decisions and courses of action you’ve taken. In the process, this will help you understand and gain insight into your own management and leadership.

Accountability: The reality is that a small business owner has his or her little fiefdom. Larger corporations have their boards to hold them accountable, but who does a small marketing or retail shop have to hold them accountable? The answer is usually no one. If you’ve meant to update your operating bylaws, launch a new marketing campaign, or figure out how to develop team members, a coach will hold you accountable. It will be this person’s job to check in with you on the goals you’re putting forward for your company.

Measurement: Typically, when you sit for your initial conversations with an executive coach, this professional will ask you about your goals for the process. Out of those goals will come ways to ensure that the goals are accomplished, and usually these goals are tied to making your business performance and leadership better. An executive coach will help you get better at measuring the success of your business because he will be working with you on core issues related to your company, which will come from the goals you prioritize.

Improved Decision Making: One of the significant benefits of executive coaching is that with the live sounding board, in the form of a coach, you’ll have an opportunity to test out ideas and thinking. A good coach will always push you by asking you questions that will help draw out and clarify your thinking. In turn, this process will help you improve your decision-making process because the decisions you will be making will have been thought through with much more rigor. Your choices will become better, and the process of how you get to decisions will become even more thoughtful and rigorous.
Sometimes executive coaches are brought on board for a specific laser reason, but lots of times they are hired because business leaders can benefit from working anywhere from three months to a year with someone helping them develop and improve. If you haven’t thought about an executive coach, it might be something to consider. If you think the price is a factor, it’s only a matter of priorities.

These Are The Top Three Reasons Benchmarking Is Not Good For You And Your Company

Benchmarking has been a buzzword for four to five decades now. It came into its own in the years when TQM (Total Quality Management) was the only gospel truth on how to become the best. The Japanese had taken over the world and for America and Western Europe to catch up; they needed to benchmark the best of what the Japanese were doing. And who propounded and continue to propound these ideas? You guess right, the big boys: BCG, Bain, Accenture, PWC, McKinsey, KPMG, Deloitte, Gemini and the rest of them.

Benchmarking 101 simply says get all the metrics how your best competitor is doing and compare to your performance. Wherever you perform worse, that’s the gap. Pronto you’ve cracked the code. Take immediate action to close the gap and you can be as good as them (your competitor) or even leap frog them. They backed up their presentations with elegant two by two graphs (process visuals as Alan Weiss calls them) and CEOs looking for ever more expensive quick fixes would jump at the recommendations and their treasuries would be the poorer for it.

Tell me, if benchmarking is really this cure-it-all antidote to lackluster performance (the big boys would deny they said it was a cure-it-all), how come Kodak did not benchmark its way to survival? How come Nokia could not benchmark its way to success and beat back Apple and Samsung? What of Motorola that invented the cellular phone technology and Xerox that taught the world how to copy? Why couldn’t the bluest of the blue, with all its technological wizardry do it, and had to send John Akers to the labour market? Beware, the elephant cannot dance unless and until it decides to dance by changing its genetic code.

So here are the top three reasons why you should never touch benchmarking with a ten-foot pole if you really want to be great, break new mold and render the competition irrelevant.

1. Benchmarking ignores the culture of the better performing organization
This is the mother of all reasons why benchmarking is a fatal flaw. Assuming you’re Intel and the Japanese are eating your lunch, what do you do? Do you go on a retreat and benchmark the Japanese to blow them out of the water? Do you call a town-hall meeting to sensitize everyone about the Japanese’s threat and quickly form quick action teams (QATs) to benchmark the Japanese to prepare the way for your glorious comeback? Do you send your top executives to Harvard to learn benchmarking at its best in order to form a groundswell movement that would make you invincible overnight? No! No!! No!!! You do what Andy Grove, Robert Noyce (and Gordon Moore) did. You fire yourselves and start all over again. Remember, only the paranoid survive. You cannot beat the Japanese in head-to-head combat because the cultures are different. Period! Have you not heard that culture will eat strategy for breakfast?

2. Benchmarking looks at the future with the rear-view mirror
Assuming you’re IBM and you’re the world’s most admired company and teased as the Big Blue, and you hear two small boys are fiddling in their mother’s garage and they say they want to topple IBM. Do you postpone your board meeting and send spies to see what the boys are up to or do you benchmark? Benchmark what? Benchmark Apple I or Apple II or iMac that don’t yet exist? The Big Boys would deny they ever said that you should benchmark under such circumstances. But didn’t they say benchmarking was the alpha and omega of the competitive tools? You will never see the future with your rear-view mirror even if you’re a magician. The truth is, when there is disruption (air travel disrupted sea travel, computer disrupted typewriter, gun disrupted bow and arrow, etc.), everything is reset to zero so no amount of benchmarking can save you. We live in an age of discontinuity, thanks to Peter Drucker, and when discontinuity catches up with you and your industry, benchmarking is foolhardiness of the highest order.

3. Benchmarking ignores critical thinking and cannot help you invent the future
The best way to own tomorrow is to invent it. Benchmarking cannot help you do that. Benchmarking is actually antithetical to reinvention. The most revolutionary inventions of our time were or are never the products of benchmarking but critical thinking. Think of products as mundane (now) as paper, post-it-note and light bulb, to mention three. These things never existed before until people’s imagination brought them to be. To invent the future, you start with a clean slate. You ask simple questions like, “why does this work matter?”, “what purpose does it serve?”, “why this (and not that?” These sort of questions enable you think critically, go deep and invent tomorrow while others are busy benchmarking and playing catch-up with the supposedly best companies.

There you have them, the three reasons why benchmarking should be avoided as the plaque: benchmarking ignores the culture of the better performing organization, benchmarking looks at the future with the rear-view mirror, and benchmarking ignores critical thinking and cannot help you invent and reinvent the future.

If you look closely, benchmarking is at the heart of the so-called, international best practice(s) in industries across the globe and who are the proponents of these “best-of-class” concept? The big consulting powerhouses! At best, let me concede, benchmarking can help you make small incremental (additive) progress, but that is not what you need. What you need is exponential (geometric) progress. Now that you have read the top three reasons why you should never do benchmarking, don’t waste time with benchmarking. For any new project you want to initiate, start with a clean slate. Yes, reinvent the wheel. Remember, Apple reinvented the phone with the iPhone, Starbucks reinvented coffee houses, and you can reinvent yours. Go and do it.