Saturday, April 09, 2005

Mission Impossible? Ethics in the Mission Statement

Can you remember the names of all the U.S. companies scandalized by ethical lapses in the last few years? Most of us are aware of Enron, Worldcom, and Tyco. There are many others. It would seem from these cases that unethical behavior and financial instability go hand in hand. Thousands of workers employed by these companies suffered, not to mention the stockholders, and to some extent, the entire economy. Could that pain have been avoided?

Captains of industry see to it that their companies carefully craft impressively worded mission statements, ostensibly to guide company actions. Seen in this light, a mission statement is like the compass the captain of a ship uses to chart a course. Either a lot of compasses have been out of whack or captains have failed to effectively utilize them.

Let's see what we can learn from Enron. Its mission statement emphasized core values of respect, integrity, communication, and excellence. But where was the followup? I fail to see how a company can expect buy-in to the mission statement by employees unless those employees create their own individual personal mission statements that are consistent with the mission of the firm. I like the core values expressed on this page. The problem is that most people aren't going to able to apply such core values to real-world scenarios without the proper training. That's the old knowing-doing gap rearing its ugly head again.

If companies aren't going to weave the mission statement into the fabric of their corporate cultures, then this mission statement generator at will do nicely. But then again, I suspect that many mission statements are already treated as a joke. The Bain company came up with this nugget, which is at least honest:, a search engine and Web browser, was so tired of corporate platitudes that it confessed its aims in Cookie Monster terms.
"Rule the World.
"Get lots of cookies.
"Eat the cookies.
"Get more cookies."

The old Cookie Monster sure is into self interest. Do you think he's ever read Adam Smith?


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