A meaningful mission statement can save your business

Deep into the 21st century, many organizations struggle with their identity even though most of them feel as if they are clear about their purpose.  A meaningful mission statement should guide them to do the right thing. Unfortunately, many of these documents can look like all others.  Many of them are merely empty words holding a place on a wall.

The first twenty words saved a company

There is one meaningful mission statement, however, that stood the extreme test. The first twenty words which more than likely saved the company.

Usually, a person can expect one defining moment in their lifetime. James Burke experienced two within six years of each other. When he was a marketing executive at Johnson & Johnson, he had an overriding sense the company was straying from its core values, which were embodied in their credo established several generations before. In one particularly heated meeting he boldly proclaimed to the executive team, “Either we live by our credo or we tear it from the wall.” In other words, it meant something to him. He wanted it to mean something to the entire company, as well.

The acid test

In a matter of six short years,  it emerged they really needed that meaningful mission statement.

Their credo began with “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses, patient, mothers and fathers who use our product and services”. Twenty very strong and powerful words that would be tested in October 1982.

Seven people in the Chicago area died after ingesting Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. When this was discovered, Johnson and Johnson faced a huge dilemma. What to do? As the CEO, James Burke knew what do to. Their credo was clear. He ordered all Tylenol products removed from store shelves, all products recalled and even all holders of partially used products to be given full refunds. At the time, this move created a loss of $100 million. A tidy sum by any standard. Their market share plunged eighty-one per cent when this was announced. To the business world, it seemed Johnson and Johnson were committing corporate suicide. After all, their products had been tampered with on the retail side. The manufacturing side of the supply chain was sound. It was simply not their fault products were compromised.

Crisis management

However, as it turned out, this incident became a textbook example of crisis management, spawned by James Burke’s belief in their corporate credo, their guiding principles. Johnson and Johnson did the right thing even at a tremendous loss. Eventually, its market share rebounded and even exceeded the place it previously held. This is a prime example of upholding the core values of the organization. This is also an illustration of the real power of an organization’s mission, vision and values, which make up a meaningful mission statement.

As for Mr Burke, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has been cited by Fortune Magazine as one of the ten best CEO’s…of all time.

Instil corporate values in your meaningful mission statement

How many times to do we witness corporate values compromised? Sadly, it’s far too often. Our history is rife with examples of organizations making the wrong call to protect its capital investment or riding the storm out knowing full well stories and news events usually fade from the public’s memory. However, James Burke took no chances because in his company the correct core values were instilled.

When organizations take the time to develop the right Mission Statement, Vision and Values, most decisions become clear. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, parse words or try to spin outcomes.

Doing the right thing actually becomes easy.

Twenty words saved one American company. How does your Mission Statement, Vision and Values stack up to this?

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George Garrett, SPHR. SHRM-SCP is a founding member of Future Focus Group, LLC, based in Houston, TX. George has spent his entire career in human resources leadership and consulting. He has contributed to and written extensively for several publications in both the US and Europe. He is certified by both the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) as a senior practitioner. George also holds a certification in Employee Relations Law from the Institute for Applied Management and Law. He is a Distinguished Toastmaster through Toastmasters International and delivers powerful, engaging talks regarding the changing field of human resources. George is a Texas native and co-author of “Evolved…Engaging People, Enhancing Success”, released in late 2014.