Excerpt of Winning by Jack Welch, Suzy Welch
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Mission and Values
So Much Hot Air About Something So Real
Bear with me, if you will, while I talk about mission and values.
I say that because these two terms have got to be among the most abstract,
overused, misunderstood words in business. When I speak with audiences, Im
asked about them frequently, usually with some level of panic over their actual
meaning and relevance. (In New York, I once got the question Can you please
define the difference between a mission and a value, and also tell us what
difference that difference makes?) Business schools add to the confusion by
having their students regularly write mission statements and debate values, a
practice made even more futile for being carried out in a vacuum. Lots of
companies do the same to their senior executives, usually in an attempt to
create a noble-sounding plaque to hang in the company lobby.
Too often, these exercises end with a set of generic platitudes that do
nothing but leave employees directionless or cynical. Who doesnt know of a
mission statement that reads something like, XYZ Company values quality and
service, or, Such-and-Such Company is customer-driven. Tell me what company
doesnt value quality and service or focus on its customers! And who doesnt
know of a company that has spent countless hours in emotional debate only to
come up with values that, despite the good intentions that went into them, sound
as if they were plucked from an all-purpose list of virtues including
integrity, quality, excellence, service, and respect. Give me a breakevery
decent company espouses these things! And frankly, integrity is just a ticket to
the game. If you dont have it in your bones, you shouldnt be allowed on the
By contrast, a good mission statement and a good set of values are so real
they smack you in the face with their concreteness. The mission announces
exactly where you are going, and the values describe the behaviors that will get
you there. Speaking of that, I prefer abandoning the term values altogether in
favor of just behaviors. But for the sake of tradition, lets stick with the
First: About That Mission . . .
In my experience, an effective mission statement basically answers one
question: How do we intend to win in this business?
It does not answer: What were we good at in the good old days? Nor does it
answer: How can we describe our business so that no particular unit or division
or senior executive gets pissed off?
Instead, the question How do we intend to win in this business? is
defining. It requires companies to make choices about people, investments, and
other resources, and it prevents them from falling into the common mission trap
of asserting they will be all things to all people at all times. The question
forces companies to delineate their strengths and weaknesses in order to assess
where they can profitably play in the competitive landscape.
Yes, profitablythats the key. Even Ben & Jerrys, the crunchy-granola,
hippy, save-the-world ice cream company based in Vermont, has profitable
growth and increasing value for stakeholders as one of the elements of its
three-part mission statement because its executives know that without financial
success, all the social goals in the world dont have a chance.
Thats not saying a mission shouldnt be bold or aspirational. Ben & Jerrys,
for instance, wants to sell all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions and
improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally. That kind
of language is great in that it absolutely has the power to excite people and
motivate them to stretch.
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.