MISSION STATEMENTS : Praise the Lord – And pass the profits

In the blink of couple of decades, Americanisms have infiltrated world commerce spreading litany of one-liners, slogans, cultural folklore and the essence of fairytales all designed to make leaders sound wise and human and for employees to live with the illusion that they contribute something to the decision-making process. We all know that the bottom line rules, but it seems that corporate mission statements and sets of values are the new religion.
The Biblical proverb suggesting that where there is no vision, the people perish has been hijacked over the past 30 years by companies, initially American but now global, designing snappy ra-ra slogans and chants. They end in clenched fists and intimidating grunts to win the hearts, minds and souls of employees.
I have lost count of the number of times I have stood with the rest of my team hand-clapping our way through ritual company song to enthuse us for the day ahead. This is routine tribal ceremony in many businesses across the nation. It is embarrassing and, dare I say, unnecessary to perform but frowned upon if not executed with visible relish and passion. The urge to nip off and hug customer is strangely compelling.
The encouragement of an all-inclusive business culture was once fad but now it has become trend, essential in commercial industry if one’s venture or enterprise is to be taken seriously.
A couple of years ago middle manager at company I worked for dashed rather enthusiastically to the chief executive’s office and waxed lyrical about visionary book he had read on holiday beach. This book, one of hundreds of similar slim volumes churned out by rather slow-drawling American business consultants, purported to guarantee that its 180 pages were filled with new doctrine to motivate people in any organisation.
It was called Gung Ho! and it drew its messages from supposed Native American beliefs in the wonders of nature. The three big themes were encompassed in the spirit of the squirrel, the way of the beaver and the gift of the goose. No, honestly.
There we were, United Kingdom citizens (and here in this international brotherhood you can insert your own identity, for you too are vulnerable to this stuff) with more in common with cats, dogs, budgies and hamsters, about to spend three-day training course in the beach resort of Blackpool being gung-hoed.
My dictionary defines the term as unswervingly dedicated and loyal, and foolishly enthusiastic. Staring through the biting sea winds of the north-west coast of England, we wondered if our American cousins far across the Atlantic would believe that bunch of Limeys had fallen for this management pantomime stuff.
Our venue had been prepared to resemble forest with wood shavings on the floor, cardboard trees and cushions pretending to be tree stump seats. We would learn that the spirit of squirrels in their industrious search for nuts fulfils God’s plan for the forest. The way of the beaver in their organisational ability to build dams fulfils God’s plan for beavers generally and the gift of the goose is God’s gift that we give ourselves because, I suppose, geese in their honking, cheery way, encourage each other along, especially on winter flights.
Our job on the course was to discuss and analyse all of this natural education and interpret it into practical philosophy to help develop business, customer service and people. One of my colleagues remarked to me that it was all uncomfortably tribal and Waco, or possibly whacko.
Whatever we thought, our collective body language, learned from another course, was expected to be very positive. The directors had adopted kind of spiritual air to demonstrate that it was possible to be saintly in hard line business.
Mission and values marketing is now seen to be important for company’s public image, but even more pertinent for employees to devote themselves completely to their employer and their work. In nutshell, where the Bible teaches us to love God and our neighbour, corporate leaders have taken and extended the idea to urge employees to love customers, love each other and believe in the company’s essential contribution to society.
In my long retailing career, I can remember the exact wording of my employers’ mission statements and values as clearly as I can remember my RE questions and answers, my prayers and almost all of the text of specific services.
Why these commercial straplines are ingrained in my mind is not so much mystery when I recall that we were encouraged, if not forced, to recite the words verbatim every day until we convinced ourselves and our superiors that we were loyal and faithful workforce.
There was, and is, tendency to develop workplace cultures drawn from religious foundations.
If an employer can harness the vocal chords of hundreds of thousands of employees daily to proclaim the wonders of the business, then power and influence become hypnotic partners, affecting individual beliefs. It is chemistry that church leaders would do well to study and adapt, perhaps.
This pseudo-fairytale, based on several career experiences, might help to illustrate the point. Once upon time there was business called Z. It sold goods and services to millions of customers. Z was big, powerful, influential and successful. It had defined culture. It had mission statement. It had 10 values. And it employed heroes and villains.
The Z culture was simple: “We will honour our individual commitment to be enthusiastic company representatives by loving, encouraging, supporting and serving our customers, our visitors and our co-employees. We will do this with 24/7 positive attitude, with personal honesty and integrity and by total loyalty to the Z brand. We pledge to see no Z evil, speak no Z evil and hear no Z evil.”
The Z mission statement was clear: “To be everything and anything our customers want us to be.”
The Z values were strict commandments: 1 We are the company in heart, mind, body and soul, human and spiritual investments in Z. 2 We worship the sacred name of Z. 3 We behave like every day is Z day. 4 We honour the history and purpose of Z. 5 We shall not waste time, money or opportunities. 6 We will be good Z neighbours to those living and working around us. 7 We will show Z respect to all people, all beliefs and all races. 8 We uphold the truth, the Z truth and nothing but the Z truth. 9 We will treasure the purity of being Z representative and ambassador. 10 We will be loyal to Z until our last employed and living second.
Z, believing its own spin, thought of itself as the perfect company with the perfect culture, perfect directors with perfect employees selling perfect ranges with perfect service.
Of course, it wasn’t. The problem with company cultures, mission statements and sets of values is that all of the wording and intention can change. Companies have to adapt to survive in the changing world of demand and supply.
The interesting comparison to religion is that whilst some changes occur, the Bible and specific doctrines remain as steady as rock for guidance and reference. Where businesses and major religions differ is in the fickleness of one compared to the steadfastness of the other.
For all my protestations, when I see squirrels, beavers and geese now, I wince at my failure to believe in their importance to mankind, but then I shrug my shoulders and re-ignite my ambition to write slim holy book on the glory of gerbils, the manifestos of mice and the ethereal musings of elephants. All ideas for tribal chant on postcard please to Bewildered & Co.

Joe Cushnan worked in retail, tourism and business education before turning to writing. He is based in the UK. [email protected]

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