Does Your Company Have Too Many Missions and Visions?

The vice president shared a draft of her company's new values project.

She had been working with two other executives to create them. They had come up with nine after several brainstorming sessions.

On paper, they looked good. These were solid, reasonable values that were all straight out of the corporate values catalog. Nothing controversial. 

There were two problems. 

The first issue was the company already had a lot of cultural artifacts. A cultural artifact is something that helps people understand your organization's culture, like a mission, vision, or set of values. 

This company already had a lot:

  • Mission statement
  • Service promise
  • Service motto
  • Brand tagline

Now, they were planning to introduce a new set of values on top of everything else. Which led to the second problem.

Some of those nine values weren't accurate. Communication was number three on the list. "Oh, we suck at communication!" said the vice president.

Perhaps you face a similar mess. Here's how you can untangle it.

Focus vs. Confusion

Companies' cultural artifacts frequently feel empty because organizations often have too many or the existing ones are inauthentic.

In the rush to create another tagline, motto, or corporate vision, nobody takes the time to decide what one statement is the most important or ensure all the artifacts are in alignment.

If everything is important, then nothing is important.

In The Service Culture Handbook, I related the story of a restaurant chain I worked with that had too many cultural artifacts.

It had a mission statement, a brand promise, a set of four service promises, and a list of 17 service standards that waitstaff were expected to follow with every guest.

Employees weren't quite sure which was most important. 

This was especially challenging since some of these cultural artifacts didn't clearly support each other. For instance, the mission statement described a desire to create amazing experiences while the service standards emphasized up-selling and efficiency.

At an executive retreat, I posed the question to the CEO, his executive team, and the general managers of each individual restaurant: which cultural artifact is most important?

There initially wasn't a consensus, but it led to a good discussion. The group finally agreed that the mission statement should be the primary guide for the employees. 

Next, they decided to rethink their existing cultural artifacts. Some were eliminated while others were simplified and aligned with the mission. The 17 service standards were slimmed down to 10. 

The restaurant chain's leadership team then communicated the revised artifacts to employees with a renewed emphasis on the mission.

Not surprisingly, service quality improved once employees had a consistent understanding of what outstanding service should be.


Where a Customer Service Vision Fits In

In customer-focused companies, the most important cultural artifact is a customer service vision.

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service that guides all employees' actions when it comes to serving customers.

What if your company already has some pretty important artifacts?

When my clients face this challenge, I usually suggest two options. Option one is to make one of your existing artifacts do double-duty as the customer service vision.

In many companies, the organization's mission, vision, or values is also the customer service vision. There's no need to add yet another statement to the mix!

For example, take a look at REI's mission statement:

At REI, we inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.

This is why the company exists (hence, the mission), but it also paints a clear picture of what type of service employees should strive to provide. Go visit an REI location today and you'll almost certainly find enthusiastic retail associates who will try to help you enjoy the outdoors!

In some cases, none of my clients' existing cultural artifacts are particularly inspiring. (They decide this, not me.) That's when I suggest a second option: replace one of your existing artifacts with the new vision.

I recently helped a client do this and it was amazing how much the new vision energized employees.


Take the Three Question Test

Here's an easy way to tell if a cultural artifact is actually relevant.

Select one of your cultural artifacts (mission, vision, values, motto, tagline, etc.). Talk to a random sample of employees and ask them three questions about that artifact:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How does it guide the work that you do?

You can tell the artifact has virtually no meaning if employees aren't aware of it or can't give consistent or clear answers to those questions.

In customer-focused companies, every employee can give a consistent answer to the three questions when asked about the customer service vision.

You can learn more about customer service visions and how to create one here.

How to Tell if Your Mission Has Lost Its Meaning

Raise your hand if your company has a mission statement.

Most companies have one. Yours probably does. Mine does. But have you ever wondered what purpose the mission actually serves?

You could go with the stock answer here. "The mission tells everyone why the company exists." Ok, let's test that. See if you can answer three questions about your company's mission statement:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How do you contribute?

Nobody's listening to that voice inside your head, so you can be honest. Did you struggle to come up with a quick answer to those three questions? If so, your mission isn't fulfilling it's purpose.

Now, go ask your employees the same three questions and see if you get consistent answers. If you get a lot of blank looks or wildly different responses, your mission has lost its meaning.

How the Mission Drives Service Quality

I'm taking some liberty with terminology here, so let me take a moment to clarify.

Elite organizations have created a shared definition of outstanding customer service that all employees understand. I call this a customer service vision.

This customer service vision can be a stand alone statement, but often it does double duty as a company's mission, vision, values, or customer service standards. Most, but not all, elite organizations use their mission statement to define outstanding service for their employees.

So a clear mission can give employees guidance in their daily activities. Here are just a few benefits:

  • It provides a sense of purpose when they come to work.
  • It acts as a compass to point in the right direction in moments of uncertainty.
  • It reinforces what employees should be doing to serve customers.

For example, JetBlue has led J.D. Power's North American Airline rankings for 12 consecutive years. A lot of their success comes from using their mission statement, Inspire Humanity, as a shared definition of outstanding service.

Every JetBlue crewmember (i.e. employee) knows his or her job is to bring a human touch to service. In an age of self-service and automation, humanity is sorely needed.

JetBlue is one of the outstanding companies profiled in my new book, The Service Culture Handbook. It's due out in April, 2017, but you can download Chapter One when you sign-up for updates.

Why Employees Don't Know the Mission

There are three common reasons why employees don't know or understand the mission.

  1. It's never mentioned. The mission is almost never openly discussed.
  2. It's not trained. Employees receive no instruction on what it means or how to live it.
  3. It's not a priority. Employees are overloaded with too many statements like a mission, vision, values, credo, slogan, brand promise, customer service standards, etc. that create confusion about what's important.

That last one really stands out. Employees won't know or understand the mission unless you make it a priority. That challenge here is many leaders fall into the multiple priorities trap.


The Know Your Mission Challenge

Back to those three questions.

You can restore your mission (or customer service vision) to relevance if you can provide the training and coaching necessary to help each employee give a consistent answer to these three questions:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How do I contribute?

Are you up to the challenge?

Defining Your Customer Can Be Complicated

The definition of a customer is broad.

Customer (noun)

  1. a person who purchases goods or services from another.
  2. Informal. a person one has to deal with.


This seems fairly straightforward in some businesses. 

Let’s say you own a restaurant. Your guests would be your customer. You might also include vendors and employees as customers under part two of the definition. But, there’d be no confusion that guests are your ultimate customer. They’re the people who purchase goods or services from you.

This gets more complicated in other organizations.

The nonprofit Goodwill has three primary customers. The people who donate clothing and other items, the people who shop in their thrift stores, and the people who receive jobs and job training.

Organizations like this have to decide how to manage the needs of their different customers. This is especially true when there's an apparent conflict or limited resources. 

There could be trouble if you choose poorly.

The Forgotten Customer

McDonald’s has long had a reputation for poor customer service. Last year, I wrote a post detailing how their problems boil down to three areas:

  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of quality
  • Lack of control

It’s that last part that’s starting to bite them.

Franchisees operate 81 percent of McDonald’s locations. That means most of McDonald’s customers aren’t actually served by a McDonald’s employee. 

Right now, the franchisees aren’t too happy. A recent article on Slate described McDonald’s relationship with its franchise owners as “the bleakest it’s been.”

Rent has increased an average of 26 percent over the past five years. Meanwhile, year over year same store sales are down 4.2 percent.

Now, McDonald’s wants its franchise owners to invest an estimated $120,000 to $160,000 in it’s new Create Your Taste initiative. The Create Your Taste program is designed to allow people to customize the burger they order using an interactive kiosk.

Many franchise owners resent the additional investment. It will take a significant chunk out of short-term profits while making operations even more complicated.

McDonald’s can’t turn around it’s fortunes unless it improves it’s relationship with franchisees.


Complicated Industries

McDonald’s is hardly alone. Many industries have complicated customer relationships.

Hotels are a good example. In a typical hotel, one company owns the building, another company owns the brand, and a third company manages the hotel. 

Let’s say the property is getting a bit old and needs some upgrades. The brand might dictate the type of upgrades that need to be made. The building owner has to find a way to pay for the upgrades. And, the management company has to keep guests happy until they all can sort things out. 

That’s are a lot of interests to manage.

Insurance is another example. Many companies have independent brokers who sell and service their policies. They must keep these brokers happy to ensure policy holders receive great service. At the same time, insurance companies must keep tabs on their brokers to ensure they’re representing the company fairly and accurately.

It’s enough to give you a headache.



Companies can achieve clarity when they have a customer-focused mission or vision.

Take a look at Goodwill’s mission:

Goodwill works to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.

So, donations are important, but only to the extent that they help fulfill the mission. If a donation isn’t ultimately helping people reach their full potential through learning and the power of work, Goodwill doesn’t want it.

Let’s look at State Farm’s mission for a for-profit example:

The State Farm mission is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams.

I can tell you from experience that State Farm and their independent agents are aligned around the same mission. In 2001, I traveled to Houston to help my in-laws recover from a flood. My father-in-law's truck had been completely submerged in water and was totaled. His State Farm agent showed up the next day with a check in hand so my father-in-law could buy a replacement.

It required coordination between State Farm and it’s agents to make the same thing happen for hundreds if not thousands of customers who were similarly affected.

Meanwhile, people in the neighborhood who had other insurance companies waited days for their insurance company to lend a hand.