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As I See It

Mission statements can make tremendous difference

Most companies have mission statements. These are usually lofty sounding charges designed by senior management to point the direction for the company and inspire the troops.

The problem with even well-designed mission statements is they don’t impact operations if the troops aren’t familiar with them. And, in many cases, just drafting the mission statement is the end of the process. It’s filed on a dusty shelf, unused, awaiting the next strategic planning session when it will be resurrected, modified and returned to the shelf to await the return of the dust.

I am a strong believer in mission statements. Not just drafting a statement, but actually using it to keep the train on the track. We revise our mission statement, objectives and goals here at the Mississippi Business Journal every three years. Part of that process is reviewing how closely we tracked our plans and projections in the previous plan, or whether we deviated off in another direction entirely.

Sticking to the plan

Generally speaking, we stick pretty close to the plan. I read our strategic plan from cover to cover every month. I find that this regimen helps keep me focused on the course we have charted and improves decision-making.

In addition to the traditional mission statement, we have spent considerable time wrestling with the issues of values and uniqueness. What values do we reflect in the way we go about what we do? What makes us truly unique and different from other companies? These are the questions we have answered for ourselves, and I find re-visiting those subjects regularly to be refreshing and encouraging.

Values are tough to define. Should we consider our values to be what we wish we did or what we actually do?

One of the largest companies in the U.S. defined its corporate values as communication, respect, integrity and excellence. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? That company was Enron!

An article in the Harvard Business Review several years ago indicated that 55% of all Fortune 500 companies claim integrity as a core value, 49% espoused customer satisfaction and 40% claimed to be bastions of teamwork. I wonder if most people feel that over half of all major U.S. companies exhibit integrity in all their dealings? What about customer satisfaction and teamwork?

Business life of integrity

Similar to other U.S. businesses, we proclaim that integrity is one of our core values. We also espouse teamwork and customer focus.

OK, so we’re not all that original, but we really believe in living a business life of integrity. To complete the package, we cite creativity and independence as core values. So, do we walk the walk or just talk the talk? Actually, that is a question that only our employees, customers and suppliers can answer. My hope is that we will be found living up to our value commitments.

Merely defining a mission and core values will not do anything. Every company, and individual for that matter, needs strategic goals or objectives.

The goals tell us when we’ve won or lost and by how much. They serve as the benchmarks to measure our progress.

Striving for continuous improvement

We have adopted steady, profitable growth and a reputation for fairness and objectivity as two of our objectives. Borrowing from our friends in the manufacturing community, we strive for continuous improvement throughout our organization and we invest in developing our people toward their potential.

What about measuring it all?

Once the mission, values and objectives are set, all that remains is setting measurable benchmarks to see how things are going.

Many individuals have adopted personal missions and are committed to a code of personal values. Though they may not bore you to tears telling of their mission in life, it is evident who is moving toward a defined goal and who is merely wondering around running out life’s clock. All victimhood aside, this is clearly a decision that each of us has complete control over.

Thought for the Moment

The beginning is the half of every action. — Greek proverb

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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