Jock Sommese

Jock Sommese is a business consultant for Kutztown University's Small Business Development Center. 

Businesses are always asked by experts, “What is your mission?”

Unfortunately it is usually too difficult to describe and committing it to memory is too cumbersome.

However, if you “live it,” it becomes easy. Here’s an example.

It started on Sept. 29, 1982, when 12-year-old Mary Kellerman, of Elk Grove Village, just outside of Chicago, took two Extra Strength Tylenol capsules for a head cold, quickly became violently ill and died.

Over the next several days, six more local people died, all victims of whoever placed capsules tainted with potassium cyanide into Tylenol containers at area drug stores.

McNeil Consumer Products, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, immediately alerted consumers across the nation not to consume any type of Tylenol product (37 percent of the market), stopped production, pulled the advertising, recalled the bottles from the lots of product that were laced, sent warning to health professionals, and eventually offered to exchange Tylenol capsules for tablets.

James E. Burke, chairman of the board of the corporation at the time, never hesitated in what needed to be done, and chose preservation of reputation over denial of liability (although the perception was it was McNeil’s fault). Burke, however, had some help in his decisions.

The help presented itself in the form of a credo written almost 40 years earlier by the previous company leader, Robert Wood Johnson.

Johnson believed that the company’s responsibilities were to “consumers and medical professionals using its products, employees, the communities where its people work and live, and its stockholders.”

Simple, wasn’t it?

But sometimes the mission doesn’t work.

Energy company Enron prided itself on four key values: respect, integrity, communication and excellence. And all business dealings at Enron were supposed to be “open and fair.” Whoops, missed it by that much.

While Enron is a special case, most businesses don’t have mission statements that reflect reality.

Think about the companies that say customer service is the most important thing and yet the employee is rewarded on completing calls within a certain time frame.

When conflicts arise between core values as defined in a mission statement and the status quo, the latter usually wins out.

My personal belief is that a mission statement should be a credo much like Zig Ziglar’s, “Give enough people what they want and you’ll get what you want.”

A simple rule of thumb is this: be client-focused, set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and trackable.

So as you start or continue in your business, if you develop a “real” mission statement, the decisions you make become so much easier. Why?

The solution becomes easy when you can say, “Does it fit my mission?” If so, do it. If not, move on.

• Jock Sommese is a business consultant for Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center.

Mission Statement Quiz Answers

1. Real (Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce)

2. Made Up *

3. Real. (Philadelphia Business Journal).

4. Made Up*

* Courtesy of Dilbert's Mission Statement Generator 

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