It doesn’t matter if it is just words on paper that has no impact on how business is done. And sadly that is more common than having a mission that actually matters because it actually guides how decisions are made and how the business delivers products and services.
[Hallmark Building Supplies] uses the purpose statement to make decisions on a regular basis. This is one of the keys to a good purpose statement. If the purpose statement doesn’t guide what is happening it is not providing much value.
The video above gives a good illustration about how companies operate when aim/purpose/mission etc. drive business decisions. When this happens mission matters a great deal. It provides focus to everyone as they do their work and prioritize how to continually improve the organization every day. The video also provides an illustration about how leaders behave when they understand the organization as a system.
To many of us today that aim may seem lofty and disconnected from our day to day lives. Dr. Deming was born in 1900 in Sioux City, Iowa. He lived through World War I. He lived through the depression. He lived through World War II. He was asked to go to Japan to aid in the recovery efforts. In my, opinion, if you live through those conditions and are a systems thinker it is very easy to understand the enormous hardship people face when commerce fails to provide prosperity and the devastating tragedy of war is made so real. It may be hard for people with indoor plumbing, heating, air conditioning, safety, security and a fairly strong economy to appreciate how difficult life can be without prosperity. But I think it is much easier for someone who has lived through 2 world wars, a depression and then spends a great deal of time in post war Japan to understand this importance.
I didn’t live through those events, but I also can see that importance. I lived in Singapore and Nigeria as a child. And I traveled quite a bit and was able to see that there were billions of people on the earth that more than anything struggle to get food, clean water and electricity. To me the importance of advancing commerce, prosperity and peace was easy to see and when I first saw his aim it struck me. It took a few more years to appreciate how the aim is made real and moved forward by his ideas.
Most of the posts will be on much more focused management ideas. But I think this is an appropriate beginning to the exploration of these ideas. He had many specific thoughts on topics managers face everyday. Those ideas were part of a system. And that system had, at the core, making the world a better place for us to live in.
My father shared a similar vision. We lived in Singapore and Nigeria for a year as he taught at Universities. He went to China for a summer (before it was really open – they brought in some experts to help learn about ideas in engineering, science, statistics etc.). In these efforts he was largely focused on helping create systems that let people benefit from prosperity. My father had also lived in Japan for several years as a kid and saw Japan trying to recovery from the devastation caused by World War II.
An aim for the organization is extremely helpful when it allows everyone in the organization to be guided by the same vision. But nearly all the time, in my experience, the aim is printed in the annual report and posted on the web site an used in some speeches but has nothing to do with how the organization operates.
When the vision is merely a pretty collection of words that doesn’t drive decisions and behavior it is pointless. When it does drive behavior it is powerful. Sadly that is rarely the case.
I’m a writer. It’s the one thing that I intend to do for the rest of my life. That means, when I focus on writing, I cannot focus on knitting. Somebody else will have to do the knitting, so I can focus on the writing. And maybe later, I can trade my wonderful book for someone’s beautiful sweater. This concept applies to all other professionals too. Everyone is entangled in a web of economic dependencies, and therefore, the purpose you choose for yourself should somehow generate value for the others around you. Or else nobody will give you a knitted sweater.
This all makes perfect sense to complexity scientists, who have known for a while that complex adaptive systems find a global optimum through local optimizations and interdependencies. (At Home in the Universe by Stuart Kauffman) The parts in a complex system all try to optimize performance for themselves, but their efforts depend on the dependencies imposed on them by the parts around them. With a mix of competition and collaboration, the parts interact with each other without any focus on a global purpose. Nevertheless, the end result is often an optimized system. Biologists call it an ecosystem. Economists call it an economy. I call it common sense.
Putting the “Why” in Your Mission Statement
Most management scholars and experts have ignored the insights from the complexity sciences (or are unaware of them) and some have suggested goals for teams, and purposes for businesses, that are too narrow. There are many corporate mission statements in the world expressing ideas such as, “Make money for shareholders”, “Put customers first”, and “Achieve superior financial results” (The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management by Stephen Denning). In each of these cases, the purpose of the organization is (too) narrowly defined as providing value to one type of client or stakeholder.
If I had to limit myself to a handful of management experts, Russel Ackoff would definitely be in that group. Thankfully there is no such limit. Ackoff once again provides great insight with great wit in the above clip.
A corporation says that its principle value is maximizing shareholder value. That’s non-sense. If that were the case executives wouldn’t fly around on private jets and have Philippine mahogany lined offices and the rest of it. The principle function to those executives is to provide those executives with the quality of work life that they like. And profit is merely a means which guarantees their ability to do it.
If we are going to talk about values, we got to talk about what the values are in action, not in proclamation.
Quote from Gandhi on customer focus at the Chakra restaurant
A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.
A snapped this photo at the Chakra restaurant in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Ironically the food is great but the service isn’t what I would like. But I will gladly go back many times. I’d like a bit more attentive service but I love the food and that is more important to me.
I think service at restaurants is one of the tricker things to do well: different customers have different desires. I basically want great food, my water to be filled up and my bill to be given to me before I finish so I don’t have to wait around to pay. But lots of people will find it annoying to get a bill early, feeling that they are being rushed out the door.
Still there is a certain standard I share with lots of people for things like not having to wait around for a long time to get the bill after I am done. Getting water filled up as needed, pleasant decor, etc..
In Johor Bahru there are a fair number of Japanese restaurants (the food is very good and the service is also good). Several of these restaurants have buzzers on your table to press when you want service. I love Indian food. I must say I like the Japanese service (it did take me a bit to warm up the buzzer idea – it is very practical). It do believe some of the things I would see as weaknesses in customer service are partially a cultural difference (it is interesting to see the different customer service experiences at the different restaurants here).
“We actually want our employees stay with the company for a long time, for 10 years, maybe their entire life.”
“We now provide mentorship and training so employees can join at the entry level and, over a period of five to seven years, have the opportunity and training to become senior leaders in the company,” he said. “Constant growth is what will keep them in the company for a very long time.”
Hsieh said he wants Zappos to have a higher purpose than just driving profits and that if employees buy into it, it is easier to have great customer service and for employees to want to stay at the company. He’s outlined that in core values that the company uses to guide itself.
Great stuff. I must admit I would not find spending $700 million on an internet shoe and apparel retailer was a great idea for Amazon if it were not Zappos. I am happy to own a small portion of Zappos with such inspired leadership. The contrast in the respect for people Hsieh shows and so many other unethical CEO’s is amazing and inspiring. We need more such leadership examples to follow.
California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word “nonviolently” in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.
“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”
Modifying the oath “is very clearly not permissible,” the university’s attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. “It’s an unfortunate situation. If she’d just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment.”
Modifying oaths is open to different legal interpretations. Without commenting on the specific situation, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown said that “as a general matter, oaths may be modified to conform with individual values.”
“I honor the Constitution, and I support the Constitution,” she said. “But I want it on record that I defend it nonviolently.”
My take: stupid unthinking government action. First I can’t see what value the signing does at all. But even if you think there is some aim that having everyone sign supports does a Quaker inserting non-violently harm that aim in some way? Is it really unquestioningly doing whatever you are told that is the value that is what is being aimed for? Seems pretty clear to me from even this short article this teacher understands the constitution much better than most people and cares enough to take the values that constitution endorses seriously. While the government looks like they only care about getting their form on file and don’t care at all what the purpose of that form is (the purpose can’t really be just to coerce everyone to sign it, can it?).
To me she is doing a great service to defend that constitution with her actions. Hopefully she can do so and have her job. But standing up for what is right often can leave you worse off personally.
I understand that it is easier to ignore the purpose and just focus on compliance with the rules. But what does it say if your actions show that actually loyalty doesn’t matter and signing something you don’t believe is ok? It just bothers me that this loyalty oath situation puts an emphasis on empty promises above the true intent of the constitution. Devaluing it harms us all in the long term.