Re: Mission Statements

Subject: Re: Mission Statements
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Sat, 9 Aug 1997 09:35:09 -0500

At 02:08 PM 8/8/97 -0700, you wrote:
>I agree 100 percent with Bob Morrisette. You know those classes where
>the instructor gets everybody to write down their personal short- and
>long-term goals? I've always hated those...thought it was an incredible
>waste of time. Sure, it makes you think about your goals at the time you
>write them, but after the class they are soon forgotten. Mission
>statements are like that. Everybody gets charged up about writing one,
>then when it's written it is done and soon forgotten.
>Besides, they all end up sounding the same. It's always obvious stuff.
>What company or group *doesn't* want to provide complete customer
>satisfaction or increase company profits?
>Bev Parks
>parksb -at- emh1 -dot- hqisec -dot- army -dot- mil
>The Friendly Faces of TECHWR-L -

I have to respectfully disagree with my colleagues here. It's not the
mission statement per se that's at fault for the rotten reputations that
mission statements have; it's the way they're seen as panaceas. We all know
the mind-set where you create or buy something just to say you have it. We
see it with "I'll buy PageMaker for you and you'll become a technical writer".

Mission statements are usually hopeful, venal, self-serving PR-speak cloaked
as a business statement. In large corporations they're usually pitched so
that upper management can't object to them. But I've helped people write
mission statements, mostly in small companies, and I think they're useful
tools...but only if they're honest and complete.

A writing department is the same as any team, assuming they THINK they're a
team. And a team has to have a mission, or it's just a collection of butts,
chairs, and monitors. If that's your department, then say so: We don't have
a team mission. We come to work every day and go home. Hardly the stuff to
motivate the troops to self-immolation on barbed wire, but at least it's not
miscasting anybody.

If you're a team, then find out what the TEAM wants to accomplish. Don't
cast it as a vapid and meaningless generality. Follow that up with a
strategy statement that defines EXACTLY how you're going to get where you're
going. Without a strategy, a mission statement, no matter how honest or
well-meant, is just the free floating bad smell that most people assume it
is. When you know you'll have to back up your contentions with real plans,
it tends to bump up the honesty index.

For example, let's say your mission statement is "To be the industry leader
in documentation quality." That sounds as formless as any mission statement
anywhere. First, is your team totally on board with this goal and ready to
make sacrifices? If not, back down the grandiose language. If so, move on.
Define how you'll measure this. What's your plan? Maybe it's:

1. Compile a library of manuals from every one of our competitors;
2. Assign a review team to read, analyze, and report on every manual, with
good and bad points;
3. Assign a team to review our own documentation for flaws and good points;
4. Design a new system of style sheets and templates to incorporate all of
the good points from both sources;
5. Produce sample manuals;
6. Do end-user usability studies;
7. Submit manuals to every competition they'll fit into;
8. Have it all done within 12 months;
9. Repeat every two years.

Now the mission statement has teeth. There's a plan, there's a deadline,
there's a measurement standard, and there's a mission statement that
justifies all of this. Now, all you need is to ensure that management is on
board, too, so there's a perception of unwavering support.

It works. I've seen it work. But it's a lot of effort, too. Most people
don't bother. But the fact is that your customer and your coworkers know
what your mission statement is, even if you don't announce it, because it
will always be reflected in your work. Don't believe that? Quick...what's
Microsoft's mission statement? You don't even need to see it in print, do
you? How about IBM? Oracle? Ford? Nissan? Apple?

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
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