I recently came across a LinkedIn post featuring a dozen inspiring corporate mission statements, as reviewed by a popular business website, and was struck by how commonly misunderstood is the enigma of publicly posting and using mission statements as a part of an organization’s promotional messaging.
Numerous firms are in the habit of hanging their mission statements prominently in the company lobby, posting them on their website, or publishing them on the back of the firm’s business cards. The practice is common but the strategy may be unwise.
I visited one firm whose mission statement was beautifully designed, professionally framed and prominently hung in the reception area. It was titled “Our Customers Come First” and went on to expound on the seven ways that the firm and its employees would fulfill their promise to exceed customer expectations.It was obviously aimed at clients passing through the reception area.
At a later date I was invited into the inner offices of an organization and following my meeting shared a coffee with my host in the firm’s employee cafeteria. There on the wall was the firm’s mission statement, “Customers Are Our Livelihood” and like the previous experience detailed the ways that staff could ensure that customers were served with the highest possible standards. Essentially these two mission statements were similar. The major difference was the wall they occupied, the first externally projected for marketing purposes, the second directed to employees only.
Blatantly proclaiming the organization’s ultimate commitment to customers is broadcasting a promise to surpass customer expectations. Such use of a mission statement is the business equivalent of a written dedication to reach the peak of Everest. Companies want customers to know they are trying their very best to please; but promising to do so and to be seen doing so are two different things. As we all know, actions speak louder than words.
The ultimate Catch-22 of trumpeting such a fervent oath is that it violates a fundamental marketing principle… that of under-promising and over-delivering. Marketing teaches that the hallmark of successful firms is in exceeding customer expectations. Then why make a public pronouncement that, though it is made in all sincerity, sets expectations too high?
A mission statements is an internally generated and supreme standard of excellence that an organization sets itself to achieve. Not unlike an athlete vowing to make the Olympic finals or break the world record in his or her sport. The failure rate is enormous, but the discipline required is admirable. and the lessons learned are valuable.
How does a firm avoid putting itself in a position that risks customer cynicism and an almost certain shortfall of target? This is a quandary that many businesses encounter and often manage incorrectly.