Mission Statements

OK I get it – a mission statement is important.  “It is the philosophy that guides how we do business every day” says Starbucks.  Everyone we hire and everything we do needs to be aligned.  Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus and… droning noise in background while you update your to do list.  At the end of a three hour session on developing your district’s mission statement you are more likely to say “Oh just KMN” than “Gee, that was fun”.

Why?  Because we have staggering workloads.  Those lost three hours are going to be made up on Saturday or after dinner tonight.  Could it really be that we don’t know why we are here?  Are we writing mission statements for the utterly clueless who don’t realize they are working at an institution whose purpose is to provide all its kids with a great education?  Is it just for PR?  Or am I just really jaded?

I have a wonderful friend.  She is the director of a preschool.  We play cards with her and her husband about twice a month.  Well, we sometimes play cards.  Other times we talk and laugh and watch You Tube videos of drunken spiders and Eddie Izzard.  Despite the hilarity, from time to time her preschool comes up in conversation.  Not a profound philosophical discussion, more like “Oh tomorrow I have to go to the library to get more books for the preschool”.  “Oh the kids at the preschool would like that”.  “Today one of my kids came to visit.  She’s in college now”.  It did not take long to be fully tuned in to the passion she has for her work and her kids.  I doubt that her preschool has a formal mission statement, but based on her words and actions I could write it for her in five minutes.  “The mission of the preschool is to deeply connect with each child, to nurture them, to engage them in the world around them, and to ensure they are emotionally and intellectually ready for Kindergarten”.

In other words, if we don’t live our mission statements, then they are meaningless.  If another person, after observing our work for a few days, could not write the organization’s mission statement from our behavior, then that three hour exercise was pretty meaningless (oh, if it were only three hours). I could write the personal mission statements for any number of “wrong person on the bus” employees I have worked with over the years.

Here’s three:

  • My mission is to put in the minimum amount of work I can and not get fired, take home the highest paycheck possible, and retire as soon as I can
  • My mission is to appear to be very smart, connected and indispensable by showing off relationships with movers and shakers (actually getting anything done is not required)
  • My mission is to make myself indispensable by developing processes only I understand, controlling those processes, and acting as sole gatekeeper to critical information

Well, you get the idea.  I could go on, but I’m getting depressed already because these people exist everywhere and are toxic to their organizations.

It is probably a more fruitful exercise to write your own personal mission statement, honestly, and see if it is out of alignment with what your organization is trying to accomplish.  The trouble is that people do not see themselves in the same way they see others.  I am probably going to honestly assess myself as doing a great job in alignment with the organization’s mission, whether that is objectively true or not.  That’s where performance appraisals come in.  A lot has been written about eliminating performance appraisals.  Perhaps they need to be transformed into alignment appraisals.

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