2012-06-06

Scylla of Banality and Charybdis of Incomprehensibility

A mission statement is no easy thing. Businesses struggle with this. Mission statements are prone to either state the obvious, or state nothing at all.
“Aspire to excellence.”
“Client-focused providers.”
“Aiming to exceed expectations.”
These are too banal to provide any help. Alternatively, mission statements fall prey to incomprehensibility. One cartoon shows two business people looking at a draft proposal for their mission statement – and some of the language evokes religious themes, but its so convoluted. The statement says:
“Manifest excellence beyond a paradigm of betterment with magnitude of probity and cohesion with coalescence and diversity of purpose steadfast, bounded only by our prescience and predestination as we gloriously emanate eminence for the divine unified triumph toward quintessential destiny.”
The one person is saying to the other:
“I’m not satisfied with the new mission statement. I can still understand parts of it.”
And then there are the sorts that are loaded with generically meaningless buzzwords. Dilbert creator Scott Adams parodies these with the Dilbert Mission Statement Generator which churns out such samples as:
"We have committed to synergistically fashion high-quality products so that we may collaboratively provide access to inexpensive leadership skills in order to solve business problems"
And:
"It is our job to continually foster world-class infrastructures as well as to quickly create principle-centered sources to meet our customer's needs"
And:
"Our challenge is to assertively network economically sound methods of empowerment so that we may continually negotiate performance based infrastructures"
Those are parodies. This one is real:
"The New Ventures Mission is to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings."
Businesses are not congregations, and congregations are not businesses. We aren’t even a nonprofit business. Yet we have in common that we are complex organizations that have a lot of different things going on, and it's hard to sum up all those things in any way that provides meaningful guidance. So what often results is either banal or incomprehensible.

I have been asking the members of my congregation -- the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville -- since last September: "Why are we here? Why do we gather at UUFG and contribute our resources to its support?" You all have been really sweet about all chipping in to pay my bills for the last six years, put a roof over my head, pay for health insurance for my family, and that’s awfully nice of you, but what exactly is it with which you’d like me to help you? What is it with which we’d like to help and be helped by each other?

More clarity on what we’re trying to do here – so we can help each other do it – and I can add what I can – would feel good.

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This is part 3 of 6 of "Mission: Impossible"
Next: Part 4: "Need Clarity? Name the Change?"
Previous: Part 2: "Authority and Mission"
Beginning: Part 1: "Theology and a TV Spy Show"