As a young man, I was very skeptical about the corporate mission statement and values each company I worked for put out. There were several reasons for that, but along the way a few things changed my mind. The current pandemic situation has really emphasized this for me.
A key quote that brings this all together:
"It takes many good deeds to build a reputation, and only one bad one to lose it." - Benjamin Franklin
If a company, which means its people, truly believe in and adhere to its mission and values, then making the hard decisions become easier. It also keeps poor decision at bay during periods of crisis, which could ruin the company's reputation with its employees, its customers, its communities, and its owners.
There is something called Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) that has rightfully become more and more talked about and acted on. You identify the big areas of risk such as legal, strategic, human resources, operational, financial, and credit risk, but also a big one - REPUTATIONAL RISK. Reputational risk touches all others.
I have 2 stories that changed my mind about corporate mission statements and values...
The first storY
I worked for a company and in their mission statement they mentioned their constituencies in order of importance. All were important, and 99% of the time you can make all constituencies happy, but if you must choose, it was to be done in this order - team member, customer, community, and shareholder. They truly believed this and had good reasoning behind it.
About 3 months after I joined, they did their annual revisit of the mission statement and values. They asked if anything needed to be modified. I spoke up and said that customers needed to come in front of team members in the mission statement. I received a nice talk about why I was wrong in that belief. Then I said something that changed the company and my view on mission and value statements forever.
"Well, since I have been here, every time the phone rang whether a cell or a desk phone, all of you picked up that call right in front of a team member without hesitation. Your actions tell me the customer is more important than the team member. That is fine, but let's be honest about our true mission and values."
They all said - you're right. We need to change our behavior to match our values. And they did!
They made sure their behavior matched the mission. Having a mission and values does not change the fact we are human and may stray from them. The key is that you believe in them and find your way back on the right path!
The second story
This one is present day. A large non-profit is really getting pinched. Their source of revenue is gone with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the very group they serve that can no longer pay them needs them now more than ever. Their mission statement and values made the tough decisions much easier. They could shut down and maybe live to fight another day, but the very reason/purpose/mission they are here for would be shoved aside during the biggest moment of need. Thus, they decided to keep serving their #1 priority to the best of their ability. Some funders might be disappointed by that decision, but choices had to be made. By looking at the mission statement and values, they made the tough decision. If someone was going to be upset, it was NOT going to be the #1 audience of why they exist.
What’s The Risk?
I share all this because what I have found to be very true about mission and values statements is this - if you really believe in them, in the very darkest or toughest of times, they make the very tough decisions easier by showing you what is most important. It identifies what you are trying to do most of all and for whom. It preserves your reputation, which at the end of the day, is all you really have anyhow. If your reputation is still intact, you can always build again from that solid foundation. Without it, you have nowhere to start from.