Everyone in the business world has heard of a mission statement and the importance for a business to have one. But, if you’ve ever looked at some companies’ mission statements — even established, big-name companies — you might think, “What’s the point? It doesn’t say much.”
Maybe you’ve attempted to create a mission statement and the result turned out to be a series of slogans or catchphrases. You may have even hung it on the wall and then later realized that nobody looks at it or remembers what it says.
We went through something like that at ATRA: About 15 years ago, we went through a Mission Statement Workshop and, after an entire day, had five paragraphs of lofty language. We turned it into a sign and hung it on the wall. Boy, did we feel good about it!
About 10 years later, we had a company meeting. During the meeting, without any warning, GEARS Managing Editor Rodger Bland pipes up, “I have a $100 bill here for anyone who can quote a single paragraph of our mission statement.” What a wise guy, right? But he had no takers… not even me.
Shortly after that, I tried something different: I went around to each person and asked, “Why are we here and what do we do? What’s the purpose of ATRA?” To a person, the response was a list of tasks. They had no idea why ATRA was in business.
It wasn’t their fault… it was mine. I never told them. You see, you can do a task very well, even if you don’t know why you’re doing it. Even if you don’t know its purpose. Knowing the purpose makes the tasks relevant and important.
It isn’t just us: A lot of businesses fight their way through defining their purposes… some successfully; others less so. Here are a few I discovered:
Blockbuster — At Blockbuster, diversity means valuing differences. It’s a corporate value that must be continually developed, embraced and incorporated into the way we do business.
They went bankrupt in 2010.
Radio Shack — With its convenient and comfortable convenient stores, qualified sales staff help customers get the most from your technology products.
Are they kidding?
Kodak — At Kodak, we believe that by doing well by our shareholders also means doing right by our customers, employees, neighbors, and suppliers. With that in mind, Kodak operates its facilities, and designs and markets its products and services, not only to increase shareholder value, but also to promote development of the individual, the well being of the community, and respect for the environment.
It doesn’t get any worse!
So we weren’t alone when it comes to not being able to define our mission clearly. On the other hand:
Walmart — Saving people money so they can live better lives.
Simple and includes the customer.
AT&T — To connect people with their world, everywhere they live and work, and to do it better than anyone else.
Another good one.
So what did we do about it? At ATRA, our answer was the simple “Get ’em in the door; get ’em out the door” statement. It goes like this: The purpose of ATRA is to help its Members bring customers in, and then help them fix their cars so they can get paid. It’s simple and to the point. Plus, everyone can remember it, even Rodger. (Where’s his $100 now)?
It also works as a test for future projects: “Does it help Members bring customers in? Does it help them fix cars?” If it doesn’t meet either of these criteria, we don’t do it.
Now let’s take this thinking into your shop. Why do you exist? What’s the purpose of your business? Why does it matter that you and your team show up every day?
If your purpose is to rebuild transmissions, start over: that’s a task. In fact, if it has anything to do with the transmission, you’re probably missing the point.
You see, the purpose of a business — at least a successful one — always centers on the customer.
This exercise is harder than you might think, especially if you’re a technician at heart. We technicians always want to talk about the great work we do, and our vast knowledge and abilities. We get excited about parts and technique, and our web site and advertising reflect that (as though customers should get as excited as we do about parts and technique).
So take your time and put some thought into answering the question: What’s the purpose of your business.
We’ll cover more about this later in the year, culminating with a program at ATRA’s Powertrain Expo. In the meantime, give it some thought. Include your team as well. If you get it right it’ll change the way you do business… forever.