Why I Hate Mission Statements

The easy and fun way to test whether a mission statement/purpose/motto is garbage is to negate it and see whether it still holds up. If a mission statement does not make sense for a company not to do, then why even bother stating the obvious?

Striving to be a leader in a field? Of course you are – you better not be trying to come in dead last…

Trying to connect people to passions or interests? Hell, why not disconnect them instead!

Don’t be evil? Have you tried being evil? Was it so bad?

Just do it? Have you considered the consequences?

To me, mission statements sound as disingenuous to me as the parenthetical phrase “to be honest.” The best possible response to a sentence that includes that phrase is “Please lie to me instead.”

Douglas Adams wrote frequently about the human penchant for continuously stating the very, very obvious. Mission statements take that principle to the extreme, to the point where we even believe that we’re going to persuade people about something or other by making an official public statement about what we are going to do that would be insane to negate.

In fact, I can’t think of a single catch-phrase that motivated individuals through an extended period of time, except for perhaps “Go forth and multiply,” but one could easily see that the instruction wasn’t really necessary, just the equipment and instinct.

9 thoughts on “Why I Hate Mission Statements

  1. I think the fact that I know the reason for your post makes it all the more enjoyable for me. I don’t usually hear much objections to mission statements (other than the fact that they don’t make much sense and seem pretty cliched) but you’ve put it very succinctly.

  2. My fear of mission statements is the lingering doubt that there are folks that feel they need to consult such blindingly obvious statements before taking action.

    “Hmm… Well I was going to send trained, rabid howler monkeys to the homes of our customers so that they can steal their belongings and infect their pets at 2AM, but you know, after reading the mission statement…”

  3. Often times, the catch-phrase (some overlap with mission statements) is nonsensical:

    “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

    “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

    What mission statements are good for, especially at a small company, is providing insight into the boss’s psychology: priorities, self-perception, values, how far out-of-touch with reality they are, etc.

    Really, the only plausible mission statement for most companies would be: “Achieve some combination of maximizing short-term profitability, long-term profitability and CEO satisfaction.”

  4. Mission statements can actually be wonderful if you have a “real” one as well as a “public” one. I have a friend who worked for a systems integrator in Sydney. The sales department invented their own “real” one: ‘suck ’em in and fuck ’em’.

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