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I gave a lecture today to 200 undergraduates students about company missions statements. We tend to overlook mission statements until a junior arrives who has done some form of business studies. Then what we get is rather bland nonsense about "our workforce being our biggest asset" just as we are about to mechanise operations in order to eliminate five or six jobs. Often mission statements get confused with slogans and we get a slick one liner, which perhaps makes for a great advertising programme but does not fit the role of helping anyone understand the purpose and direction of the business.
Two years ago this month exactly the business journalist Lucy Kellaway did find a statement that is worthy of consideration. It was written for Johnson and Johnson in 1943, not by a young employee or a consultant but by the long time Chief Executive. For today it is a bit too lengthy but despite that it is worth laying out in full:
“We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality. We must constantly strive to reduce our costs in order to maintain reasonable prices. Customers' orders must be serviced promptly and accurately. Our suppliers and distributors must have an opportunity to make a fair profit.
We are responsible to our employees, the men and women who work with us throughout the world. Everyone must be considered as an individual. We must respect their dignity and recognise their merit. They must have a sense of security in their jobs. Compensation must be fair and adequate, and working conditions clean, orderly and safe. We must be mindful of ways to help our employees fulfill their family obligations. Employees must feel free to make suggestions and complaints. There must be equal opportunity for employment, development and advancement for those qualified. We must provide competent management, and their actions must be just and ethical.
We are responsible to the communities in which we live and work and to the world community as well. We must be good citizens - support good works and charities and pay our fair share of taxes. We must encourage civic improvements and better health and education. We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources.
Our final responsibility is to our stockholders. Business must make a sound profit. We must experiment with new ideas. Research must be carried on, innovative programs developed and mistakes paid for. New equipment must be purchased, new facilities provided and new products launched. Reserves must be created to provide for adverse times. When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realise a fair return.”
Note that this starts with the customer needs. Second come employees with consideration of work life balance and the right to raise concerns. No platitudes about our "most important asset" while they are quietly building robots. Management must be ethical and companies should pay their "fair share of taxes".
As Ms Kellaway noted two years ago the 'shareholders take their place at the back of the queue. “When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realise a fair return.” On reading this credo, I find that I believe, too. I enthusiastically sign up to this sort of capitalism.'
For an industry like leather that wants to support the production of a sustainable article then a mission statement like this makes sense. What does yours look like?
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