Excerpt from Winning by Jack Welch, Suzy Welch, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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  • First Published:
    Apr 2005, 384 pages
    Nov 2006, 272 pages

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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 market—fixing, selling, or closing every underperforming business that couldn’t 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 ambition.

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 couldn’t deal with it for whatever reason, usually nostalgia for their business in the “good old days.”

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, that’s what most thought we were. The global focus mission would have probably alarmed others. Rapid change usually does.

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 anywhere—and you should listen to smart people from every quarter. But setting the mission is top management’s 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 company’s leadership.

It’s the true test of its stuff.

. . . And Now About Those Values

As I said earlier, values are just behaviors—specific, 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 the end—winning.

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. That’s OK. In a small enterprise, everyone can be involved in debating them in all kinds of meetings. In a larger organization, it’s 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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