“There’s a clothing drop box down the street that says, “The American Red Cross of Massachusetts is a humanitarian organization, led by volunteers, that provides relief to victims of disasters and helps people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.” Good enough, so far. But adjacent to those words, in a font four times the size, and in bold, mind you, are the words, “Mission Statement.” Which made me wonder, is this Red Cross’s mission, or its mission statement? I don’t want to go off on the Red Cross — the messaging on the drop box could just be some junior graphic designer’s idea, and not an organizational mandate. But it spoke volumes about what was in the mind of the person who put it there. It gave away the context in which that person’s work occurs: public relations. See, if you’re on a mission, the box says something like, “Red Cross Emergency Clothing Drop Box!” in gigantic reflective lettering, and not a damned thing else. Because you’re on a mission to get as much clothing as you can. But if the goal is to satisfy a contemporary set of communications and public relations standards, then it says trendy things like “Mission Statement.”

A person or organization on a mission is inspiring. A mission statement is an abstraction. Add to this disadvantage the fact that most mission-statement writing is an exercise in compromise and equivocation, and now you’ve really depressed people.

The world is full of examples:
“At IBM, we strive to lead in the invention, development and manufacture of the industry’s most advanced information technologies, including computer systems, software, storage systems and microelectronics. We translate these advanced technologies into value for our customers through our professional solutions, services and consulting businesses worldwide.”
Cancel my Ambien prescription. There’s nothing less exciting than careful jargon. Is it any wonder Apple’s market cap has left IBM’s in the dust? “Strive?” Did no one watch Star Wars? Remember what Yoda said? “Do. Or do not. There is no trying.””

Read the full article at HBR here:
http://blogs.hbr.org/pallotta/2011/01/do-you-have-a-mission-statemen.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29

Do You Have a Mission Statement, or Are You on a Mission?
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