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Throw away your mission statement.

Look around your office. Find the posters in the halls, the brass plaques in the conference room, the signs in the kitchen – anything with the heading “Our Mission”. Tear them off the wall and throw them away. Why? They’re lies.
Written Apr 13, 2011, read 4902 times since then.
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Before you read this, take a walk around your office. Find the posters in the halls, the brass plaques in the conference room, the signs in the kitchen – anything with the heading “Our Mission”.

Tear them off the wall and throw them away.

Now delete the mission statement from your computer. Brush White Out through the mission statements in your brochures and annual reports.

Why?

They’re lies.

Sound harsh? Probably not. In the 21 years I worked in marketing, I read only one mission statement that made sense. It was from a company whose CEO and employees actually believed in it – and lived it every day. The company was Boston’s Holland Mark Martin ad agency. And their mission was:

Have fun. Do great work. Be profitable.

As I conduct writing workshops and speak at conferences around the world, I meet people who laugh and roll their eyes when I ask if they know their company’s mission statement. Most people have no idea what their company's mission is. Nor do they care.

The fact is, most organizations are not telling the truth in their mission statements. That’s right, well-meaning companies and organizations all over the world are lying - without even realizing it.

Right now, organizations everywhere are lying to their employees and to their customers. The CEO says one thing, the sales people say something else, and their customers have another point of view. All their perceptions contain part of the truth. But they’re disconnected and inconsistent.

A woman who didn’t see the writing on the wall.

Here’s a real life example of a company who lied in their mission statement. My father-in-law recently came to visit from San Francisco. He flew to Dallas and took care of some business. Then he rented a car and drove to Houston, with a ticket in hand to fly back to San Francisco.

Easy enough.

But when we returned his car to Avis, the clerk informed him of a $450 fee since he had obtained a round trip contract but brought the car just one way.

That’s not what I requested in Dallas,” he told the clerk. “I asked to return the car in Houston.” My father-in-law waved his Continental Airlines Houston to San Francisco ticket in the air.

The Avis clerk got on the phone to her manager. But his story was the same: “Tell the customer he has to pay the additional fee,” said the manager.

As I listened to the Avis clerk talk with her manager, I noticed a brass plaque on the wall behind her counter. It was titled: The Avis Mission

This is beautiful,” I thought.

May I speak with your manager?” I asked the clerk.

She rolled her eyes again, shrugged, and handed me the phone.

Hi, this your customer’s son-in-law,” I said. “May I read something to you?”

Um…yes sir,” sighed the voice on the other end.

I read:

The Avis Mission

We will place the interests of our customers first.

We will be dedicated to building a rewarding and lasting relationship with each and every customer.

We will maintain a continuous quest for world-class quality to assure customer satisfaction to earn the unwavering loyalty of our customers.



Then I asked the manager “Does this sound like what you’re doing”?

Um...

Click click click click.

It’s all taken care of sir,” said the humbled voice.

The best part?

As I handed the phone back to the Avis clerk, she glanced at the brass plaque behind her and said “I’ve never even read that thing.”

Oy vey.

I got more high-fives from the people in that Avis office than a field goal kicker at a playoff game.

So now what?

One of the most valuable ways you can serve your customers is to help them look a bit deeper into your company. To see things from a different perspective. To look beyond the obvious.

And a great way to do that is in what you write. And what you say. The simple stuff. Your emails. Your proposals. How your people answer the phone. Use everything you say to bring a clarity and a focus that will help you speak to your customers, coworkers, partners – your community – in a language they understand, and embrace.

I call it transparent writing. So the reader sees not pictures and words, but rather the ideas behind them. And those ideas are what your people buy from you.

So, start now. Take a look at your organization from your consumer’s point of view. Delete the mission statement and other BS around your company. And instead, make a promise, and deliver on it consistently.

Throw away your mission statement. Start telling the truth.

Learn more about the author, John Sturtevant.

Comment on this article

  • CEO 
Gig Harbor, Washington 
Arne Antos
    Posted by Arne Antos, Gig Harbor, Washington | Apr 15, 2011

    If it isn't put into practice then there is no mission.

  • Creative Outlaw ~ Crowdfunding Consultant 
Portland, Oregon 
Adrienne Fritze
    Posted by Adrienne Fritze, Portland, Oregon | Apr 15, 2011

    Love this. Particularly the simplicity of the statement you assert was the truth. Thank you for the post - it's timely for my son and I in the midst of our new company launch.

    Danke, A.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 15, 2011

    Arne - That's the truth!

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 15, 2011

    Adrienne - Vielen Dank für Ihren Kommentar. Viel Glück mit Ihrem neuen Unternehmen!

  • Creative Outlaw ~ Crowdfunding Consultant 
Portland, Oregon 
Adrienne Fritze
    Posted by Adrienne Fritze, Portland, Oregon | Apr 15, 2011

    Bitte. ;)

  • President - Software Knowledge 
Nashville, Tennessee 
Steve Kozy
    Posted by Steve Kozy, Nashville, Tennessee | Apr 15, 2011

    John,

    I really liked this article. Incredibly well written and excellent content. Keep them coming.

    Warm Regards, Steve

  • CEO 
Gig Harbor, Washington 
Arne Antos
    Posted by Arne Antos, Gig Harbor, Washington | Apr 15, 2011

    I thought of an example to use to illustrate your premise - Walk into a Ritz Carlton Hotel and you will feel the mission.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 15, 2011

    Steve - Thanks very much for your kind words! I'll strive to keep 'em coming!

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 15, 2011

    Arne - good example. even the fragrance in the air. Another example for me is Apple. Insanely great service from my experience.

  • Founder  
Mt Vernon, New York 
Michelle  Christie
    Posted by Michelle Christie, Mt Vernon, New York | Apr 18, 2011

    A good post. Will share link with my contacts. Thank you.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 18, 2011

    Michelle - Thanks! I hope the ideas are helpful to you. I appreciate you sharing the link.

    John

  • Hardware & Software Design, Audio Recording & Mastering 
Bellevue, Washington 
Brian Willoughby
    Posted by Brian Willoughby, Bellevue, Washington | Apr 21, 2011

    I have a story that seems similar to your Avis tale, but without quite the rewarding end.

    I was at the Nike outlet at the border between Mexico and California. My friend was taking a bit longer in line, but I had finished and was loitering between the check out and exit. I decided to sit on a completely unused countertop while I waited - more of a decorative piece of the architecture rather than a work surface. Soon enough, a security guard showed up and said that I was not allowed to sit on that counter. I instructed him to look up at the sign and read it aloud. It said: "Just Do It" - the Nike slogan. I got a laugh out of him, but I didn't get to continue sitting while I waited. Maybe Nike intended a more 'active' embodiment of their slogan.

    (I admit that a marketing slogan is not the same thing as a mission statement)

  • Nutritionist, Wellness Coach 
Eugene, Oregon 
Sandi Thompson
    Posted by Sandi Thompson, Eugene, Oregon | Apr 21, 2011

    Love this! Makes me feel good about my mission statement. I did a little training before formulating it. Best advice I took away was this: Make your mission statement lofty, higher than you'll ever reach. Then establish the goals, habits and behaviors that will make it happen. Keep reaching and stretching and just maybe you'll get there.

  • editor, writer, proofreader 
Spokane, Washington 
Joanie Eppinga
    Posted by Joanie Eppinga, Spokane, Washington | Apr 21, 2011

    This was evocative, though I was surprised by the misspelling ("waived" for "waved").

    Joanie Eppinga Eagle Eye Editing & Writing

  • Author, Speaker, Marketing Strategist 
West Bloomfield Township, Michigan 
Daron Powers
    Posted by Daron Powers, West Bloomfield Township, Michigan | Apr 21, 2011

    John spot on!

    A client made a move from ADP over to Domtar as a VP and invited me over to chat. Consultant to consultant he was excited to show me the new mission statement he developed in his new position.

    We approached a column with a picture frame say two by three feet in size. Inside the frame the title read "Domtar Mission." Below the title in maybe 12 point type was perhaps a thousand words.

    I said, "Congratulations! Who's going to actually read that?"

    The example still lives in me decades later and I thank him for that.

    Most vision and mission statements are feeble, if not academic attempts to get people on the same page.

    I agree. Throw it away.

    I like to ask business people a tougher question.

    Why should prospects buy from you over the competitor? Prove it.

    That tells us both everything we need to do to make a practical living mission statement.

  • Manager 
Houston, Texas 
Elmer Diaz
    Posted by Elmer Diaz, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Well, I will say -Don't throw it away yet! Revise it and review it and make sure that your employees and business associates buy into it.

    After all in your story the mission statement saved your father in-law day.

  • Professional Speaker & Trainer / Online Professional Identity & Marketing Specialist.  
Bellevue, Washington 
Elizabeth Tackett
    Posted by Elizabeth Tackett, Bellevue, Washington | Apr 21, 2011

    Great article and very well-written. I posted your article on the FB Page of a professional women's networking group I belong to so they may benefit as well.

    I look forward to more articles from you.

    Elizabeth

  • Business, Finance & Tax Consulting 
Seattle, Washington 
Momodou  Jallow
    Posted by Momodou Jallow, Seattle, Washington | Apr 21, 2011

    Right to the point. Love it. I've worked in management and sales, and I can't tell how many times I found myself in trouble with superiors for following company missions of customer satisfaction or money back guaranteed. I was starting to think that the things that are taught in college about mission statements and the real world are completely opposites. I was starting to think that no one will ever call out the BS that is stated by big corporations in their mission statements.

    Momodou

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Brian - funny story! I guess the security guard could've pointed to the sign too. Thanks for sharing your tale.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Sandi - I'm honored that my article gave you some nutrition for your mission! Thanks. I believe you will get there. After reading your site, I get the feeling you're well on your way.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Joanie - Whoa. Thanks Eagle Eye! Your (oops I mean you're) hired!

    Hey, check out ProofReadNow.com - you'd be a great addition to their team of editors.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Daron - "...a practical living mission statement..." I like that. Thanks for your story!

    Here's to redheads!

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Elmer - good advice! Mission Statements aren't written, they're re-written!

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Elizabeth - Wow! Thanks so much for posting the article to your org's FB page. I hope your colleagues will find some inspiration to toss their own mission statements - or re-write them as Elmer suggests.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Momodou - "no one will ever call out the BS that is stated by big corporations in their mission statements."

    Let's make that OUR mission!

    Thanks for your kind words.

    P.S. Great name you have! It's like a poem in itself.

  • editor, writer, proofreader 
Spokane, Washington 
Joanie Eppinga
    Posted by Joanie Eppinga, Spokane, Washington | Apr 21, 2011

    Thanks for your gracious reply, John! I'm now on their email list.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 21, 2011

    Joanie - that's wonderful! ProofreadNow is a great resource. And keep reading my articles – I appreciate your attention to detail. (yes, I can too start a sentence with a conjunction!) :-)

  • CEO 
Blairsville, Georgia 
Elizabeth Dyer
    Posted by Elizabeth Dyer, Blairsville, Georgia | Apr 21, 2011

    I love the mission statement from that company...

    Have fun. Do great work. Be profitable.

    If we aren't having fun, its just mundane work for a paycheck and you can't do GREAT work if you don't enjoy it. At the same, there's no point in being in business if you don't make a profit!

  • CEO 
Blairsville, Georgia 
Elizabeth Dyer
    Posted by Elizabeth Dyer, Blairsville, Georgia | Apr 21, 2011

    I love the mission statement from that company...

    Have fun. Do great work. Be profitable.

    If we aren't having fun, its just mundane work for a paycheck and you can't do GREAT work if you don't enjoy it. At the same, there's no point in being in business if you don't make a profit!

  • Nutritionist, Wellness Coach 
Eugene, Oregon 
Sandi Thompson
    Posted by Sandi Thompson, Eugene, Oregon | Apr 22, 2011

    John - thanks for visiting my website and your kind words.

  • garment factory manager 
ningbo, zhejiang China 
larry li
    Posted by larry li, ningbo, zhejiang China | Apr 22, 2011

    hi John, you said it . One of the most valuable ways you can serve your customers is to help them look a bit deeper into your company,what you say and what you do ,you not just deliver the prduct of your company,not just sale your product,it's realy the culture of your company .make the customers understand your company better.

  • Business Writing Coach 
Houston, Texas 
John Sturtevant
    Posted by John Sturtevant, Houston, Texas | Apr 22, 2011

    ni hao ma Larry - Sounds like you are living and working with a clear mission. xie xie!

  • garment factory manager 
ningbo, zhejiang China 
larry li
    Posted by larry li, ningbo, zhejiang China | Apr 22, 2011

    Hi John ,yeah ,we have a very clear mission ,the mission not just writing in the poster or the BS but in our heart ,thank you for sharing your idea,i am gald to have the opportunity to discuss with you .

  • Award-winning professional speaker & author 
Las Vegas, Nevada 
Mélanie Hope
    Posted by Mélanie Hope, Las Vegas, Nevada | Apr 27, 2011

    So true. Sometimes a company's mission statement is so convoluted that no one understands it. Lucky for you (and Avis) that theirs was pretty straightforward.

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