Mission or Ambition?

Does your organization’s purpose light people up?

In the course of a presentation recently, I examined the mission statements of several companies.  The presentation itself was, generally, about doing business from a relational standpoint instead of from a transactional standpoint.  More specifically, it was about “missionalizing” one’s business/organization.  The idea is this: organizations that establish a high-level purpose and integrate that purpose into every aspect of operations have the opportunity to connect with people – inside and outside – in such a way that brings out their best.  When this happens, everybody benefits.

So, I did a fun exercise with the group.  I put on the screen, one at a time, about 10 mission statements of well- known companies (samples below).  As each one appeared on the screen, I invited the group to guess which company the statement belonged to and respond about whether or not the statement engaged them as a consumer or would engage them if they were an employee.  The exercise was fun and the results were informative.

The first half of the statements – the ones I presented to illustrate poor mission statements – failed to garner any accurate responses about the organizational “owner” and nobody felt particularly engaged by them.  The second half of the statements were met very differently: every single one was identified quickly within the group (generally by several people) and most found the statements inspiring.

As we broke down the statements together, one thing stood out: the first half did not represent mission at all, but rather ambition.  Going deeper, we found the following:

  • The first half are about the organizations themselves; the second half are about the people the organizations serve.
  • The second half practically invite consumer participation in the mission.
  • The second half have the capacity to provide direction to employees about what they do each day.
  • The companies represented in the first half are struggling mightily and/or spend a great deal to maintain their market position.

In an age where distribution and/or advertising strength are no longer harbingers of certain success, engagement at the highest levels of humanity – where inspiration exists – is critical.  I think we’re finding that people aren’t so interested in engaging others’ ambitions, but they may very well be interested in engaging others’ mission.  Have you defined your mission?  Is it integrated into everything you do?  If so, people may just find it worth joining and spreading.


The Statements

“To become the world’s leading consumer company for automotive products and services.”

“To be the most essential global Internet service for consumers and businesses.”

“_______ is a multinational corporation engaged in socially responsible operations, worldwide. It is dedicated to provide products and services of such quality that our customers will receive superior value while our employees and business partners will share in our success and our stock-holders will receive a sustained superior return on their investment.”

“We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.”

“To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online”

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world??* If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

“To make the world’s information universally accessible and useful”