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Mission statements do not always drive performance

Business Notes

Posted: September 27, 2011 3:53 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2011 3:53 p.m.

Recently an experience at a local coffee shop reminded me that company mission statements and the performance of employees do not always mesh. If the words in the mission statement are not a living, breathing part of the work place culture – they are all for naught.

My colleagues and I recently held a meeting at a local coffee shop that is part a national Los Angeles-based chain.

We dispensed with our business fairly quickly, yet I couldn’t help but notice missed opportunities for the coffee shop to better serve its customers.

I was reminded of a trip I made in the early 90s to visit the FedEx headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee.

It was a fascinating tour of the hub of the operations center. The tour began at midnight as planes from around the world began landing at the airport.

FedEx had been awarded the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige award in 1990. This business award is given only to a select number of companies who have an organizational management system in place that ensures continuous improvement in delivering products or services.

So prestigious is this award that only 91 companies had earned it by 2010 in 24 years since the program’s inception in 1987.

At the time, FedEx empowered its employees to so absolutely anything necessary to deliver a package overnight.

An employee once rented a helicopter to make a delivery deadline.

Back to our coffee shop experience, the particular chain we visited is quite meticulous about its approach to business by training staff and employing process management tools.

Like many companies, the coffee retailer operates with a guiding set of principles, or mission statement, to ensure a positive customer experience.

But our experience was not positive.

Our visit began with the coffee shop being unable to fill our coffee orders because the retailer had "run out of coffee" by 10:30 a.m. and needed to brew more.

So we moved outside to a coffee table and chairs to wait for the coffee. The table, in fact most of the outdoor tables, were still littered with the debris of previous customers. As our coffee never showed up, we had to go back inside the store to ask for it.

As we waited, I listened in on a performance coaching session a member of the company was having with the store manager at a table nearby. It was a good coaching session.

When sales data was reviewed, the person conducting the performance review didn’t lecture or scold but asked the manager what she saw in the numbers, how she felt the numbers compared to their target goal, and ways in which she believed she could improve the numbers.

Another topic addressed was how the coffee shop manager reacted when she saw a job posting believing, in error, that the ad was for her own job.

The person conducting the performance review gave the manager examples as to how she might have responded, rather than reacted, in a more positive fashion.

And the manager was gently coached to have more confidence in her abilities. She was reassured that she had the full backing of the district manager and the person who was conducting the review.

All in all, it was almost the perfect coaching experience. Except for, the session was conducted in a vacuum.

Had the person conducting the performance review been observant of what was going around her and the negative experience customers were having at that very store, while they sat amongst the customers the chain was so intent on serving, she could have used the opportunity to show the manager what was not being done by her staff to ensure a good customer experience.

Instead it was a perfunctory review, conducted most likely as the reviewer had been trained.

There was a missed opportunity, however, to point out that coffee was not ready, customers were not being served, and that the customer tables were filled with litter.

The experience we as customers were having would have better served the performance coaching that was being held.

One of the reasons I have never been fond of mission statements is that they often become too weighty to be clear to the employees what their single most important mission is when serving customers and to grow the business.

I always liked FedEx’s original slogan instead for its crystal clarity: "When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight."

While touring the FedEx delivery operations in the early 90s, it was clear that every single employee understood their mission.

And I am quite certain that a performance coaching session at that time would not have been spent reviewing data while oblivious to hundreds of packages lying around missing delivery times.


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