What is Your Mission?
What we say and how we say it can affect our customers and our employees. Last week Peggy shared some good thoughts about slogans and mottos. This week I’d like to look at that issue from a slightly different angle. I read a lot of emails each day and I’ve noticed a troubling trend. Many people include their company or school district mission statement right below their signature without considering what they’re really implying. I’m going to dissect one of those statements which just didn’t register properly with me. It sounded good when I read it quickly but something didn’t feel quite right. When work led me back to that email I noticed some troubling implications. Here it is:
The Acme School District provides all students with high quality educational opportunities through a shared commitment among home, school, and community.
Sounds pretty good on first reading – right? But is this a district you would think is doing great things or is this a district that’s just getting by? Let’s break it down:
“provides all students” – This is good stuff. “All” students includes all segments of the student population. High performing and low, regardless of wealth, ethnicity, or any other characteristic, all students receive the service.
“high quality educational opportunities” – This might sound good but it sends all the wrong messages. There is no ownership or accountability whatsoever. They’re not committed to the “best” or “awesome” or “finest”. There’s no excellence here. Rather, “high quality” will be just fine. They are also not results-driven values. The students may or may not perform well. This district is only going to provide opportunities. When I read this I pictured customer service agents who say “I’ll try.” Maybe they can meet your need and maybe they can’t. They’ll try though. Think about how much stronger and committed this mission statement would be if it said “the best quality education” instead. This district is saying they don’t have much control over results, but they’ll try. As one of my favorite philosophers, Yoda says, – “Do or do not. There is no try.”
“a shared commitment among home, school, and community” – This also is deceiving. Yes, creating high performing students should be a shared responsibility. However, what if the other two partners aren’t doing their “share”? This district is not going to accept the blame or increase their effort.
Words really do matter because they convey thoughts and attitudes. An attitude of
limited commitment or plausible deniability has a way of appearing in our language even when we think it is hidden. Before I endorse a slogan by publishing it in my e-mails I now make sure I really agree with it. I’ve always thought my own district’s motto of “Every Child, Every Day” was kind of corny. However, it’s not exaggerating much because we really do own the results for all of our students and we’ll go to amazing lengths to help each student succeed every day.
Very few of us are in the position to change the mission statement where we work, but it can be an enlightening and productive exercise to create your own personal mission statement. It should clearly reflect why you do what you do and what’s important to you. Don’t be afraid to display it with pride in a blog comment or email.