Management theory is bunk, as is most management practice, really. Oh, I’ve managed organizations large and small, and done a good job, as measured by improved outcomes and increased incomes. Because of this success, various traditional organizations have found me useful. Until they decide they want a mission statement, at which point I become an impediment to progress.
For those of you lucky enough to have dodged this practice, a mission statement purports to set out an organization’s purpose, its products, its target market and its selling points. For readers not familiar with the word, “purport” means “to claim falsely,” which can be reduced to “to lie.” Hence a mission statement is a series of agreed-upon lies regarding an organization. What separates a mission statement from a public relations lie is the former uses much more business jargon and many more buzzwords.
“Our mission is to provide just-in-time service
in a gender-neutral and environmentally stable manner.”
“We exist to maximize client-centered outcomes
without sacrificing holistic social networks.”
“We interactively develop disseminatable strategies
with a focus on deliverables.”
“Our mission is to facilitate cross-cultural communication
utilizing state-of-the-art organically-sourced
primary, secondary and tertiary electronic channels.”
Perhaps I was a bit harsh in using the word “lies” above. After all, for a statement to be labelled a lie, we need to demonstrate its divergence from the truth. Since mission statements typically say nothing at all, they are octopus ink—they exist to obscure any truth rather than present an alternative.
I’ve spent my life injecting absurdity into formal situations while bringing order to chaos, so you’d think mission statements would be right up my alley. Here, you’d be wrong, because I’ve also spent my life refusing to take oaths that contain even a phrase I don’t agree with. A mission statement, as typically written, can’t be agreed with or disagreed with—it has no substance.
Still, I’ve had to sit through more than my share of mission-statement-generation retreats/meetings/seminars, driving other participants crazy with my damnable desire to actually say something. The one time I wrote a mission statement it ended up a 20-stanza prose-poem. Needless to say, it was not adopted. Until the Tiny White Box came into existence out of nothing.My mission statement may not have the necessary buzz-per-syllable ratio typical of the genre, but it is an oath I can take, as long as I can have a drink of water halfway through.
What It Is
A mission statement in a Keatsian voice
It is not about liability.
It is about reliability
It is not about what a judge would say.
It is about judgement.
It is not about hiding. It is not about shame.
It is about following that still, small voice within.
It is not about the passive voice.
It is about the active voice.
It is not about being acted upon.
It is about acting.
It is not about being an object.
It is the subject.
It is not about you.
It is about I.
It is not about me.
It is about us.
It is not about rights.
It is about responsibility.
It is not about money. It is never about money.
It is not about the law.
It is about being honest, true and reasonable, regardless of the law.
It is not about breaking the rules. It is not about following the rules.
It is above, beyond and behind the rules.
It is about a code engraved in the mind, written on the heart, tattooed on the soul.
It is about doing instant moral calculus in your head. It is about taking time to check your work.
It is not about the times table.
It is not about time. It is not about beginning and ending. It is not about precedent.
It is about now.
It is not about covering your butt.
It is about covering the bases.
It is not about not doing the wrong thing.
It is about doing the right thing.
It is not about agenda items, setting priorities or action plans.
It is the right action at the right time.
We are the right people.
It is about taking responsibility. It is about being responsible. It is about making choices. It is about seeing that there are always choices.
It is not about blame, excuses or retribution.
It is about being rational.
It is not about rationalizing.
It is about appealing to that which is best within us.
It is not about comparing ourselves to the worst of those about us.
It is about continually and constantly questioning the worthiness and wisdom of our own actions.
It is about assuming the best in others.
It is about acting as if this were a perfect world, and making choices that will help to make it so.