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What’s your mission?

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What’s your mission?

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I was in hospital recently with a friend.  As you can imagine there was a wait of an hour or so to be seen during which I had plenty of time to sit and watch.  There would be patients called up to see the nurse who could barely walk yet the nurse (or doctor) would stand perfectly still, not moving a muscle to help the patient who you could see was kinda humiliated that they couldn’t get there any quicker.  Not a great start really.

Anyway, time ticked by so I had a wander about to stretch my legs and came across a display stand in the doorway.  It had a dreamy mission statement style message on it telling readers all about the values that the hospital stands for, how they behave, how valuable and intrinsic to the local community they were and so on.  I kinda believe that once you’ve read one mission statement you’ve read them all so I’m sure you can appreciate the kind of thing it was.

So I stood there for a bit pondering the point of such a piece of writing if the culture of the organisation is not aligned with the nice words contained in the mission statement.  Do senior executives write them as part of some grand strategy setting exercise?  Is it part of a branding initiative from the marketing team?

It’s a shame, as so few mission statements bare any likeness to the behaviours of employees.  Yet the role of the mission or purpose of an organisation is such a crucial one.  We’re living in an age where behaviours cannot be prescribed by managers as they perhaps could be in days of yore.  The world is simply too complex for that now, so you have to trust and empower employees to do and act the right way.

In such an adaptive environment, the mission or purpose of your organisation provides employees with a key guide by which they can go about their work.

Sadly, a great many organisations still get this wrong.  Some research from Washington University highlighted the importance of a clear purpose, both for organisations and for employees.  They found that employees who understand and support the mission of their organisation tend to become more integral to the company than those who do not.

“In mission-driven companies—companies like Whole Foods Market or REI—the people who emerge as leaders are more than just nice guys. They are the ones who embrace the mission and values of the organization,” says Stuart Bunderson, professor of organizational ethics & governance at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

“But the belief has to be real. Faking a value system that aligns with your employer won’t work.”

I sense that the hospital I mentioned at the start of this post were kind of in the faker camp, and this was reflected in the behaviour of their staff.  Are your employees living your mission?

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