I no longer remember exactly when I was sitting in the reception hall of a major manufacturing company in Taipei for the first time. I think it was shortly after the turn of the millennium. One thing caught my attention right away: a huge sign that summed up the company’s strategy — or it might be better to say its mission — in a few words. Such signs were usually engraved in a stylish slab of marble or granite and located in a place that every visitor without exception would have to pass. No one could avoid reading the statement.
In many cases this is only a one-off experience for guests of the company, but of course it functions a bit differently for the employees. In their case, the aim is employee conditioning. If the employees come into a company every day and read the same statement, the most important thing is to get the workforce on board, motivated, and of course inspired to the greatest extent possible. I believe that this process of inspiration is the most important chemical process that can be triggered in the employees’ brains. Inspiration promotes motivation. Always. Everywhere and, most importantly, right away. Simply put, inspiration is in effect the bridge between the ideas “That’s an interesting thought” and “I’m going to tackle it right now.”
And that’s where things get difficult, because there’s no such thing as flat-rate inspiration. Just as all individuals operate differently, people need a wide variety of triggers to roll up their sleeves, spit in their hands, and say, “So, let’s get started!”
That’s why it’s so important for corporate mission statements to avoid a waterfall model and instead to be conceived and approached as a grassroots movement of the workforce. A mission must be born in the midst of the company, and it must genuinely try to get everyone on board. Anything else is just hollow marketing slogans, and there’s a great risk that it will be perceived as such within the company.
A mission is something personal or even intimate. Who am I? What do I want to accomplish? Where do I want to go and, above all, how do I want to shape my life?
An individual who manages to answer these questions in a few words or sentences has more or less found the formula for transforming iron into gold. Personally, I think this is a nearly impossible task. And now we’ve come full circle:
Yes, claims, mission statements, and visions are important for every company. They must define a direction, and the people who formulate them must hope that they are plucking the right strings between the heads and the hearts of the workforce.
However, it’s much more important to now and again pick up the corporate tuning fork and listen to hear whether the tones are still in harmony.
If that isn’t the case, even the most fantastic purpose statement won’t help. It will degenerate into a marketing campaign that can neither inspire nor motivate anyone.