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Two-faced Janus and Mission Statement
The gap between mission statements and business routines that kills engagement
In Roman mythology, Janus is the god of doors, gates, passages, beginnings, and endings. He has two faces – one looking into the past and the other into the future. The first month of the year – January – was named in his honor.
Having two faces could be viewed as an advantage. However, in many cultures, the epithet ‘two-faced’ has negative connotations, alluding to the hypocrisy and deceitfulness of the person.
And many business leaders behave as two-faced persons without even realizing it.
You are unlikely to see words such as ‘money,’ ‘profit,’ or ‘market capitalization’ in mission statements. Nobody declares outright in these statements that they simply want to be rich and famous. Instead, executives and entrepreneurs strive to demonstrate through them that their central aim is to change the world for the better.
And though some scientific studies claim that having a mission statement improves performance in different types of organizations, many business people complain that their mission statements don’t work how they would like.
And it happens for a good reason.
In most cases, the mission statement is the only document that contains the aim to create any public good. All the other documents selfishly reflect what the inner stakeholders, such as shareholders, executives, and staff members, have or want to have for themselves.
Look at the list of indicators we commonly use to evaluate a business:
– Stock price
– Market share
– Customer satisfaction (NPS or some other metrics)
Despite the latter one has to do with customers, it doesn’t illustrate the amount of value a company creates for its customers or society.
I haven’t heard of a company whose stock rose solely because its leaders have found a way to make customers happier than before. Investors open their wallets only if they smell future profits or rapid growth.
Susie and her job
Meet Susie. She’s a middle manager in a multinational company. When Susie joined the team a few months ago, she was introduced to the company’s mission statement. From it, Susie learned that a company strives to improve many people’s life conditions.
But Susie’s individual quarterly objective is not to take care of people. Her superiors expect her to increase the profitability of one of the company’s services. Her personal KPIs are related to financial outcomes. And the company’s quarterly reports Susie regularly receives by email are also full of numbers, and these numbers speak only about money.
If Susie were a medical doctor, she would be proud of her job because she would help patients feel better and get back to normal life. And if she were a good medical doctor, she would get paid accordingly.
If Susie were a scientist, she would try to invent a new drug or a super-efficient engine. She would also get paid for her job – as any of us do.
In a world where people are rewarded for doing good, the business realm remains a sanctuary where making money is considered both the goal and the virtue.
The gap between mission statements and business routines remains one of the sharpest contradictions in the business world.
Entrepreneurs aim to inspire their teams with bold goals and uplifting mission statements. HR professionals build their careers out of employee engagement programs.
But it doesn’t seem to be working. According to the study by Gallup, “more than half of workers in the U.S. and across the world say they’re not engaged at work and are doing the bare minimum to meet their job requirements… Just 23% of workers said they were “engaged” at work in 2022, according to the survey. The remainder — 77% — were either doing the bare minimum and “quiet quitting” their jobs, or actively disengaged and “loud quitting” at work.”
Of course, the gap between noble intentions reflected in mission statements and the business reality is not the only reason why so many people ‘are filling a seat and watching the clock.’
But we have already tried to unite employees around the idea of making shareholders wealthy. It hasn’t worked, so we should look for another solution.
And such a solution may be simpler than it seems. At the same time, it is simple but not easy.
We need to reframe the logic we employ while making business decisions.
We believe in a simple formula: “a business needs to increase profits, so it deploys resources to create more value for customers.”
But we can reframe and rephrase it to “a business needs to create more value for customers, and deploys resources to do so. If it does, it ‘gets paid’ in the form of revenue and net profit – just like a doctor or a scientist does.”
The difference between the two approaches seems insignificant, but it is a paradigm shift.
We need a new mindset to start thinking this way.
We need a range of new metrics to measure the customer value we create for customers (and they have nothing to do with customer satisfaction).
A company that follows this principle can, or even must be profitable. But net profit, market cap, or earnings per share may be one of many possible metrics, but not the primary one.
And I believe we need it not just to ‘make the world a better place to live.’ Customer value may be the only idea that can make hundreds of people work hand in hand.
People are not as selfish as they seem. According to some scientific studies, compassion is a natural human trait. Most of us love to give gifts more than get them.
So, if employees believe that their work can help some people outside of the company feel better, this idea may motivate them to team up.
But if executives behave like two-faced Januses, trying to convince employees that their work changes the world for the better and at the same time to promise a high return on investments to shareholders, it will be extremely hard to do.
This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book on strategic thinking. Subscribe to my free newsletter (if you haven’t done it yet) and you’ll get a copy of the book for free. Share this article if you like it.
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