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Mission Statement Mush

September 2007by Moshe Engelberg, Ph.D.


I recently got an e-mail from a wonderful colleague who heads up a school of public health (SPH) at a large university. In describing the School's vision and mission statement, she said "Moshe, you may consider these akin to sleeping pills... but they're typical for SPHs and did come from the faculty. I don't think many institutions have done a whole lot better than this to market themselves."

I read them. Once I woke up (just kidding), I realized again how pervasive mission statement mush is. One cause of the problem is trying to be all encompassing - everything to everyone - and thereby being not much to anyone.

This is easy to see among hospitals, many of whom express their mission - their raison d'etre - as "to provide high quality, easy accessible, affordable healthcare to all people in the communities we serve." Noble? Certainly. Effective at guiding and inspiring the organization? Just as certainly not. Technology companies too, often get caught up in jargon-laden mission statements that, while potentially accurate, produce nothing but glazed eyes and confusion.

Read your mission statement. Do you feel anything? Ask the next five employees you see what your mission statement is. How many know? Next, in ten words or less, write why your organization is here. Use simple, direct, and evocative language that applies to your organization better than any other. Now do you feel it?

Moshe Engelberg, Ph.D., M.P.H.
ResearchWorks, Inc.
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