CEOs and boards love a good mission statement—that is, after the pain of writing it is over. They should. A mission statement is literally a defining moment and something you would proudly show your mom.
Big Business people also labor over mission, vision and values statements. But sometimes, things happen along the way.
Old Henry Ford's "mission" statement is often pointed to as a model of directness and simplicity. He promised to build an inexpensive vehicle affordable by all. He did just that. A lover of engineering and efficiency, Model T prices dropped from $780 in 1911 to $360 in 1915.
Ford's current mission statement is still simple and direct. On the other hand is GM. Its values statement has headings, subheadings, and bulleted statements—lots of bulleted statements. It reads like the combined product of a hotshot advertising executive and...The Committee. But, hey, if it works for them, it works for them. That's all.
Then there is Google. No, my friends, Google's mission statement is not "Don't be evil." The actual statement is, "You can make money without doing evil." It's one of 10 values statements and refers to its advertising policy.
So why does practically everyone think it is the mission? Because that's what their gazillion customers want the mission statement to be. People seized on it as the essence of what they expect of Google. A very big, rich company with a purity of purpose that makes information accessible to all.
Some would say this shows the naive, somewhat little kid-like side of the Internet believers. I love the idea that people would be so involved with a company and its services that they would hijack the mission statement, rewrite it as their own, and throw it back at you. Then, watch every move to make sure you live up to it. Google has done nothing to discourage this notion. I suspect within Google, "Don't be evil" has indeed become the "unofficial" mission statement.
Next, Big Blue. (Now everyone born after 1960 is saying, Big what? Is that a new credit card?) In 2003, IBM did something many would consider to be not so IBM-ish. They rewrote the company values via an Internet online discussion open to all employees. Some 50,000 employees joined in the session which lasted three days. In 2004, IBM did it again to devise best practices to support the employee-generated values. In 2008, they threw the door wide open to clients, partners and thousands of employees worldwide. All sessions were deemed a huge success.
Most mission, vision, and values statements are composed in the contemplative quiet of the board room, but it's noisy in the outside world. What if your "customers" wrote a mission statement for your hospital. What would it say? What do they want you to be? What if your employees defined the core values and sent a message from the front lines? Oh, and then there's always that "don't be evil" factor.