At the end of the day, effective mission statements balance the possible and
the impossible. They give people a clear sense of the direction to profitability
and the inspiration to feel they are part of something big and important.
Take our mission at GE as an example. From 1981 through 1995, we said we were
going to be the most competitive enterprise in the world by being No. 1 or No.
2 in every marketfixing, selling, or closing every underperforming business
that couldnt get there. There could be no doubt about what this mission meant
or entailed. It was specific and descriptive, with nothing abstract going on.
And it was aspirational, too, in its global
This mission came to life in a bunch of different ways. First off, in a time
when business strategy was mainly kept in an envelope in headquarters and any
information about it was the product of the company gossip mill, we talked
openly about which businesses were already No. 1 or No. 2, and which businesses
had to get repaired quickly or be gone. Such candor shocked the system, but it
did wonders for making the mission real to our people. They may have hated it
when businesses were sold, but they understood why.
Moreover, we harped on the mission constantly, at every meeting large and
small. Every decision or initiative was linked to the mission. We publicly
rewarded people who drove the mission and let go of people who couldnt deal
with it for whatever reason, usually nostalgia for their business in the good
Now, it is possible that in 1981 we could have come up with an entirely
different mission for GE. Say after lots of debate and an in-depth analysis of
technology, competitors, and customers, we had decided we wanted to become the
most innovative designer of electrical products in the world. Or say we had
decided that our most profitable route would have been to quickly and thoroughly
globalize every business we had, no matter what its market position.
Either of these missions would have sent GE off on an entirely different road
from the one we took. They would have required us to buy and sell different
businesses than we did, or hire and let go of different people, and so forth.
But technically, I have no argument with them as missions. They are concrete and
specific. Without doubt, the electrical products mission would have come as a
comfort to most people in GE. After all, thats what most thought we were. The
global focus mission would have probably alarmed others. Rapid change usually
A final word about missions, and it concerns their creation. How do you come
up with one?
To me, this is a no-brainer. You can get input from anywhereand you should
listen to smart people from every quarter. But setting the mission is top
managements responsibility. A mission cannot, and must not, be delegated to
anyone except the people ultimately held accountable for it.
In fact, a mission is the defining moment for a companys leadership.
Its the true test of its stuff.
. . . And Now About Those Values
As I said earlier, values are just behaviorsspecific, nitty-gritty, and so
descriptive they leave little to the imagination. People must be able to use
them as marching orders because they are the how of the mission, the means to
In contrast to the creation of a mission, everyone in a company should have
something to say about values. Yes, that can be a messy undertaking. Thats OK.
In a small enterprise, everyone can be involved in debating them in all kinds of
meetings. In a larger organization, its a lot tougher. But you can use
company-wide meetings, training sessions, and the like, for as much personal
discussion as possible, and the intranet for broader input.
The foregoing is excerpted from Winning by Jack Welch and Suzy Welch. All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written
permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY.
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