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Kenneth W. Keller: Great teams have a clear mission statement

Inside Business

Posted: January 5, 2010 4:38 p.m.
Updated: January 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.
In case you missed it, the head coach of Texas Tech University was first suspended and then terminated a few days before his team was to play Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl football game on Jan. 2.

Before the game, there were rumors and on-air interviews with parents, coaches, trainers and university personnel, all spouting their own version of the events leading up to the firing of the coach and the anticipated legal action that was likely to follow.

At the beginning of the highly publicized game, one of the television announcers commented on how driven the Texas Tech team was to win the game. He said, "Great teams have a clear mission."

The Texas Tech squad took the field, scoring first against the underdog Michigan State. In the final quarter, Texas Tech took the lead and held on to win 41-31.

Earlier that day in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wrote in her weekly column that as the nation begins a new decade, the watchwords for the country should be "repair, rebuild and return."

She based her comment on those in the media who had determined the first decade of the new century as "lost." Those same pundits stated the decade that just ended was among the worst ever, perhaps the worst ever of the past 100 years.

Noonan stated one of the reasons for the last 10 years being hard as a nation was that people "... forgot the mission." She wrote further that from Wall Street to Main Street, from Congress to religious institutions, from public schools to colleges, there has been a "... diminished sense of mission or one that has disappeared or is disappearing."

A mission statement provides focus, direction and defines what an organization does and for whom.

At the end of any given year, or shortly into the next year, many companies go through a process to evaluate the past and plan for the future. Part of that means reviewing the organization's mission statement for relevance and validity.

Many companies have mission statements. They are often too long. Many people, even those leading the organization, cannot remember the mission statement unless it is on a piece of paper in front of them. Most employees don't believe in the mission, for two reasons: first, it isn't their mission; it is the mission of those at the top. Second, the mission statement doesn't relate to what they do every day, all day while at work.

Chip Conley is the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, a San Francisco-based hotel, restaurant and spa business.

In his book "PEAK," he states: "With respect to connecting our employees with the company and its mission, we have found that the simpler and more succinct the mission, the more powerfully it engages our employees."

In the best-selling book "Built to Last," authors Jim Collins and Jerry Portas did research that proved that companies focused on core values and a sense of purpose are more successful in the long term than those that are purely profit-driven.

A mission statement should provide a sense of purpose for every employee and if it does not, something is not right; the mission is not simple, succinct or relevant enough to the employee.

For many employees, the only mission statement they know is the one that states: give me my paycheck on payday.

Who can blame them if their leaders, managers and supervisors have failed to enroll and engage them in any higher level of commitment?

As the year begins, now is the time for not just a review and renewal, but perhaps it is time to revise the mission statement so it makes sense and matters to every employee collecting a paycheck.

Conley stated in "PEAK" that there is a qualitative difference between not being sick and feeling healthy or truly alive. This concept can and should also be applied to organizations, most of which fall into the middle ground of not being sick but not truly alive.

It's easy to become overwhelmed with doubt, distrust and distractions and become depressed when life gets difficult. Those young men from Texas Tech could have just as easily been distracted by what was happening around them and played in a disengaged manner.

The team went a different way; the players had a clear mission to win the game for themselves and their university.

They were truly alive throughout the game, even when they fell behind. They executed when it mattered and won the game.

If you want your company to come alive in 2010, create a short and resonating mission statement that has relevance for every employee.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Brain Food for Business People" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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