If there's one single thing that sums up the attempt of any corporate entity to bolster the belief of the people around it that said entity is not falling to shreds, it would have to be the Mission Statement. You know what I'm talking about here. The three or four buzzword-laden sentences that have been slaved over, debated, argued about and ultimately have exactly nothing to do with the way that the unit runs itself. Nothing, do you hear that? I know I'm blowing the lid off this, but the key takeaway that will provide my customers with the fullest understanding of the scenario and afford them a solution to their need to know will be to state unequivocally that Mission Statements have absolutely ZILCH to do with reality. Plus - news flash - nobody cares about them except the morons who feel the need to create them in the first place!
The Mission Statement Effect always starts with a well-meaning, overzealous and ultimately pathetic manager. I've been through nine managers in my six years at this job, and I've honed my sense of the absurd on them. My talent for weaning out the weak is unerring, and I can Name That Loser in 2 emails. The ones I've loathed most have invariably begun their tenure by asking for two things: weekly written status reports, and a Mission Statement. The kisses of death, I tell you.
The weekly status reports are, in practice, actually worse than the mission statements, if only because once we get through Mission Statement Hell, we don't have to revisit it every Friday. But I have to pull together some list of accomplishments every freaking week, and I have to tell you, it's just about the hardest part of my job. The reports are due by 4 pm on Fridays and at 3:30 I can customarily be found at my desk, looking at a list like this:
To Do Next Week
The one good thing about the weekly status reports is that they really help a person develop her fictional writing skills. My reports are always well typed, neat, spell checked, and like something out of a C.S. Lewis novel with respect to believability. You know how it is - sometimes you have to stretch the truth. So if I have a 2-minute conversation with an engineer about a software bug, I turn it into the bullet item "Assisted in the resolution of discrepancy report". Don't tell me you've never done it. If you don't tell anyone, I won't.
But in terms of sheer butt-numbing trapped-in-the-meeting- nowhere-to-run torture, nothing beats trying to "craft" a Mission Statement. I go nuts just thinking about this "crafting" business. You craft a quilt, a sculpture. Maybe you craft beautiful music. You don't craft four sentences worth of crap designed to make you feel more important. You hock it up with the fur balls maybe, but you sure as hell don't craft it.
Despite my, er... reservations about the process, I was recently in a staff meeting where the crafting process was "kicked off" (another bit of corpo-speak that drives me off my broom. We're going to "kick-off" the "team" to "rally them together" so we can "boost productivity". Pardon me, but I have to go puke - I had "too much on my plate" and now I'm nauseous).
During this exercise, a group of 9 of us covered a white board with "base concepts" for our mission statement (pretty soon this entire essay is going to be "encased" by "quotes" because I just don't talk like this!). Among the items on the list were things like: executive presence (no, I don't know either), proactive (a favorite for mission statements that usually gets translated by management to "fix things before you know about them, ok?"), credibility (don't lie!), risk mitigation (ahh… the soothing sound of bullshit), business savvy (never had it, never will), drive problem resolution (to where?), ownership (of what?), courage (I come to work every day don't I? That's all the courage I can muster), honesty (didn't we cover this?), focus (you first!), and many more that I don't even want to get into. Absolutely nowhere on the list was enjoyment of the work. Since I'm a troublemaker, I pointed out that we had a huge list of things we wanted to do, but nothing on how we wanted to go about doing it, so maybe we could add having fun to the list? Wouldn't that be nice? Hmmm? To enjoy coming to work? Anybody? This was met with a round of nods from my co-workers and got put on the board with the red pen. Until the manager stepped in and pointed out that you could have fun burying bodies BUT DID IT CONTRIBUTE TO THE SUCCESS OF THE COMPANY? I could not, absolutely could not, resist giving him the evil eye and saying "Depends on whose body it is, now doesn't it?"
I'm going to get fired, I just know it. And it will be sweet relief.
After we erased the word FUN from the board (and now you know everything you need to know about my job), the second step was to take the list and prioritize those things on it that we wanted to include in the mission statement. And this is exactly how a mission statement winds up dripping with buzzwords - particularly adjectives. A delivery is never just an on-time delivery; it's an on-time delivery driven by excellence to engender customer confidence and brand loyalty. The "crafters" of these things have to fit eighty-seven concepts into one very short paragraph. By the time you get to the end of a sentence, you've forgotten what it was about. Which I honestly suspect is the entire point. It's not about actually acting on the mission statement; it's about being able to say you have one, as though the presence of a short paragraph overflowing with concepts so bloated with self-congratulatory prose concerning business ethics and goals could make up for a lack of real leadership!
And now, to add to the chaos, our "takeaway" is that we all have to go write our own mission statements to share at next week's meeting. Oh. My. God. Could someone please arrange for me to fall onto a huge spike sometime in the next week? Perhaps I could accidentally-on-purpose be run over by a freight train tomorrow afternoon. I am far too bitter to do this. It'll never work. You know I'm going to come up with something like this:
My mission is to resentfully provide the most indolent solutions to the tribulations posed by my nonexistent employment portrayal. I will cheerlessly strive for excellence in all my extra-curricular online community research. This will, in turn, increase shareholder value such that my options will no longer be so far underwater that I need a diving bell just to visit them.
The thing that I take issue with the most in this assignment is that even if I was able to put the nastiness aside for a moment and succeeded in composing a rational, well thought out, clear and achievable mission statement (oh Jay-sus, did I just write a mission statement for my mission statement!?) it wouldn't be acceptable. Because I wouldn't weigh it down with overused terminology that's as stale as last week's baguettes. I don't see the point of trying to fit 26 concepts into 4 sentences. Yes - we came up with 26 things to include. I know, I know - many will be removed ultimately, it was just brainstorming. But I guarantee you that not enough of them will. And "at the end of the day", all we'll have is a paragraph that nobody refers to, nobody can quote, and nobody understands. Worse, we'll have spent too much time creating it, and it will do nothing to change the way we work. It's a hollow gesture, and I can't abide time-wasting insincerity.
I can't think about this anymore. My quotes key is getting tired, anyway. I'm going to go ask the cats to write a mission statement. Since it's sure to involve a lot of sleeping, and at least a little fun, I may wind up stealing much of it for my own presentation. The sad thing is that probably nobody will notice.
- KNP Feb 4, '03