What Is Your Real Mission?

Last fall, I had the opportunity to participate in The Boondoggle. Organized by Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen, it provided an opportunity for 10 people who didn’t know each other to sit in a cabin outside Omaha for 2 1/2 days and think and talk deeply about the future of work.

By the afternoon of day two, we’d pretty much all gotten past the posturing, and we were finally getting real. We had grouped all the previous day and half’s work into key themes, then we did an exercise where teams were assigned to facilitate a discussion around each of the key themes.

My partner and I were assigned to facilitate a discussion around finding meaning in your work, which led us into talking about organizational mission, and how that aligns – or doesn’t align – with personal values.

Now I’m not saying that everyone has to find deep meaning in her work. I think it’s completely acceptable to “just” a job that pays your bills, and find your meaning in your family and friends or your religious community or your volunteer work or your avocation.

But I do think that if you want to find meaning in your work, that option should be available to you. And everyone doesn’t have to find the same meaning. If your meaning is saving puppies or teaching kids to read, that’s great. But your meaning could be a fat title and a fatter paycheck. It could be amassing personal power. You should’ve have to “greenwash” what’s really important to you.

The problem is, every organization – for profit or otherwise – has a mission statement. But most of them are so much sunny bullshit.

If you want to know what an organization really values, look at what they reward.

Do they say they value customer service, but their default answer to everything is “that’s against policy”?

Do they claim to value teamwork, but reward kingdom building and territoriality?

Do they say they provide quality products and services at competitive prices…and don’t?

Do they say they want innovation, then automatically shoot down every new idea anyone proposes?

And even when what the organization actually values isn’t in direct conflict with what the organization claims to value, mission statements are often nothing more than empty platitudes that sound nice and mean nothing.

Why not be honest?

If your organization will do ANYTHING – exploit low-skilled workers, pollute the environment, skirt taxes and regulations – to make your widget 5 cents cheaper than the other guy’s, admit it.

If you really do value excellent customer service above all, live it, and tell people.

If what your organization really wants is to never, under any circumstances, rock the boat in your industry or profession, say so.

If you aim to change the world in some tangible way no matter what the cost to the people involved, let people know.

Brand authenticity drives brand loyalty. If you’re open and authentic about what life is really like inside your organization, you’ll find yourself doing business with staff and customers who are truly of a like mind and can align themselves with what your organization is truly values, not some nice, sappy-sounding thing that’s on your website that is patently false.

There really are people who would love to work at a place where the profit motive is the most important thing. There really are people who want to change things so badly, they will not count the personal cost. It’s not everyone, but if, as an organization, you can be honest about what you really value, the people who do choose to do business with you will be choosing that from an authentic place and will, ultimately, be happier.

Be authentic, warts and all. Someone will still love you and want exactly what you’re offering.