Why do companies have mission statements? Are they mere marketing for the office wall? Sherrie Johnson Smith of Eventide explains how mission statements can provide meaning for our work, drive all our actions, and even help us glimpse the bigger story of business itself.
I want to open with this question: Why do companies have mission statements?
Have you ever thought about it?
Typically, what happens is that the executives of a company will go away together on a retreat together, and spend several days together crafting the perfect mission statement for their organization. They’ll come back and they’ll frame it; they’ll give this mission statement to all of their employees, to take and embody this mission, and ultimately to move it forward.
Why do we do this?
Alasdair MacIntyre is a philosopher who wrote a book titled After Virtue. It is considered one of the most important works on philosophy from the 20th century. In his book, he says “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” What he is saying is that story really determines all of the actions that we take.
Story is really at the bottom of how we live. It forms our identity, which gives rise to our convictions, which informs our values, which drives the actions that we take. And of course, because story is driving our actions, it also drives our outcomes. The reason that companies spend so much time carefully crafting these mission statements, is so that they can have one big story – the right story – driving all of their actions as a company.
Story provides meaning and purpose for our work, and even in a broader sense, for our lives.
In fact, all of our lives are organized around these stories that we tell about ourselves, about why we are here, about what and whom we care about, and about why we do the things that we do. The same is true for a business. The story that a business tells about itself takes its first shape in a mission statement.
- Sony exists to establish a place of work where engineers can feel the joy of technological innovation, be aware of their mission to society, and work to their hearts’ content.
- Hewlett-Packard exists to make a contribution to society by designing, developing, and manufacturing the finest electronic equipment for the advancement of science and the welfare of humanity.
- Facebook exists to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.
Do you hear how lofty these mission statements are? They speak of “advancing humankind”, “the welfare of humanity”, “a mission to society”, “human flourishing”…
These are big, big stories. They are stories of hope. On the other hand, when stories aim too low, it is deeply dissatisfying to us. When we talk about what we do, rather than purpose – the bigger story of WHY it is that we do what we do, it bothers us to the bottom of our souls. We hate when stories aim too low.
At Eventide, we believe the true story of business is to serve the common good. This is our mission statement: Eventide exists to honor God and serve its clients by investing in companies that create compelling value for the global common good.