During this time, my little sister would come to the office after day camp and hang out in the back room, where the radio (office-friendly oldies, of course) played the loudest. I think one of my fondest memories ever is my seven-year-old sister walking around the office, singing to herself, “The man who shot — Liberty Valance… he shot — Liberty Valance…” And when I called her attention to what she was singing, she said, “Huh? I don’t know that song.”
Now. Let’s talk “worst,” shall we?
THE MISSION STATEMENT
A terrifyingly true story.
(The employees of Company Z are gathered around the conference table. The smell of rock-bottom morale is in the air. That and maybe somebody’s post-lunch beer breath.)
BOSS 1: We gathered you all here because we want to come up with a mission statement, something that will really energize us.
BOSS 2: There’s enormous power in words. A good mission statement should jump out at people, like a bear jumping out of a cave.
(Morale is too low for anyone to laugh at this. Which is fine with Boss 2, because it was not a joke.)
BOSS 1: We’re going to start by going around and having everyone suggest a word that describes what they’d like to experience when they come to work.
(Boss 1 positions himself at the whiteboard.)
EMPLOYEE 1: Creativity?
EMPLOYEE 2: Happiness?
EMPLOYEE 3: Integrity?
(And so on.)
LAST EMPLOYEE: Uh… Communication?
(Everyone’s ears perk up, because this dude seriously causes so much drama because he never wants to discuss his business with anyone, even when it directly affects everyone else’s business.)
BOSS 1: Now, let’s start crossing things off the list!
(Katie raises her hand. Boss 1 acknowledges her warily, since she is getting to be sort of cranky these days.)
KATIE: It just seems like there are a lot of interesting ideas up there. Why are we crossing them off the list when we should be talking about how we could implement them?
BOSS 1: I don’t understand.
BOSS 2: Well, because we’re writing a mission statement.
KATIE: Why don’t we just try to improve the company?
BOSS 2: A bear… jumping out of a cave?
KATIE: Oh, forget it.
(As a group, they go down the list. If someone says they can live without a concept, everyone is given the opportunity to defend the concept. If no decision is reached through discussion, it goes to a vote.)
BOSS 1: Okay, we’ve narrowed things down pretty well. Now, let’s see… how about “integrity”?
KATIE: Yeah, let’s keep that one.
BOSS 1: Hmm, okay. Let’s see. Who thinks we need “integrity”?
(Everyone raises their hands.)
BOSS 1: It’s just that given the nature of our industry…
BOSS 2: Oh, yes… I see where you’re going with this.
KATIE: But don’t you want your employees to have integrity?
BOSS 2: Oh, we’re not talking about us.
BOSS 1: It’s about the company.
BOSS 2: It’s a mission statement.
KATIE: But… seriously?
(Many other employees also speak up in defense of integrity.)
BOSS 1: Okay, fine, let’s put it to a vote.
(The result is: Everyone Else vs. Boss 1 and Boss 2.)
KATIE: Can we write our mission statement now? (“And go home” is implied.)
BOSS 1: Yeah, yeah, in a second. I just want to come back to the concept of integrity.
BOSS 2: You know, you’re right, Boss 1. This can be a cutthroat business.
KATIE: But you still need integrity, right? Because how else could you look yourself in the —
BOSS 1: Hey, let’s vote!
(The vote is: Everyone Else vs. Boss 1 and Boss 2.)
BOSS 2: We’re so close, everybody. I know we can come together and do this!
BOSS 1: Let’s just… let’s have one more vote about “integrity.”
(The vote is: Enough People plus Boss 1 and Boss 2 vs. Katie and the Other Troublemakers. “Integrity” is crossed off the whiteboard.)
BOSS 2: Awesome, guys!
BOSS 1: This is really a powerful exercise.
KATIE: Can someone please push me out the window?
(Katie didn’t really say that. But she did, once they had settled on an integrity-free mission statement, go back to her office and print it out on a piece of paper with a bear graphic at the bottom. The next morning, Fellow Troublemaker and Katie made a hundred copies and plastered the office with them. When Boss 1 arrived, he looked around in wonderment.)
BOSS 1: Wow! What’s all this?
KATIE: Our mission statement.
BOSS 1 (looking closer): Is that… a wombat?
KATIE: No. It’s a bear. Jumping out of a cave at you.
BOSS 1 (really worried now): It looks like a wombat.
(Another Employee comes in.)
ANOTHER EMPLOYEE: Hey, look at that! Our mission statement …And a picture of a rat?
KATIE: It’s a bear. Jumping out of a cave. To attack you with its mission statement.
BOSS 1 (shakes head sadly): I love the idea of what you’ve done, but I really don’t think the wombat is sending the right message.
(Katie and Fellow Troublemaker go around the office cutting the bottoms off the papers off to remove the worrisome wombats, even though they are clearly bears.)
Two months later, after enduring morning commutes where the desire to turn around and go back to bed is so strong it almost causes Katie to throw up, Katie quits.
In her subsequent employment opportunities, Katie seeks out companies where nothing is expected to jump out of a cave at you and the importance of “integrity” is considered above debate.
And there are no mission statements.
(Okay, so maybe it looks a little like a wombat.)
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