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No mission statement? No mission

In the late 1990s I worked as a Budget Director for the DOD in Rota, Spain.   As one of only two civilians in a facility of fifty sailors and officers, I got a first-hand look at all the things the military does exceedingly well. (Of course I also got a glimpse of the many oddities that remind one that the military resides well outside the private sector).    And to the astonishment of my capitalism-soaked, profit-loving brain, I walked away envious.   In terms of shared organizational elements, most American businesses could benefit greatly from the military’s superior emphasis on two things: the mission and the chain of command.

When I read essay after study after poll (Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” should and will rightly jolt any “boss” out there) describing the vast majority of American workers as having little understanding of their role at work, or their place in the overall “mission”…well…how can you do anything but shake your head?   That problem never existed at my duty station, nor any I ever witnessed.   When you remove the politics and the obvious jokes, the military really does do a great job of making sure its people know their mission objectives (again, soundness of those objectives notwithstanding).   And as far as jumping your boss’ head? Good Luck if you serve in any branch of the armed forces.   What may be commonplace and an everyday occurrence in the private sector is simply not tolerated in the military.   Of the four or five times I was privy to sailors complaining to the commanding officer about their direct report, none ended well for the complainer.   Knowing what most of us know about the team-crushing skills of the average office snake, it’s a breath of minty fresh air.

And I would be lying if I claimed lifelong belief in the concept of the company mission statement.     When I was asked to produce one in college I remember glibly writing down something to the effect of “to make as much money as humanly possible”.   Having come full circle on the issue, I now realize this is the unspoken mission of every company with the exception that many would add “without regard for the U.S. judicial system”.   The art of a great mission statement is layers deep and exceedingly nuanced.   Tons of large companies you know have terrible mission statements.   Some (DELL) don’t have any at all.   The fictional Dunder-Mifflin has one and it is a masterpiece of directionless, bland Dilbert-speak that – and here’s the joke- could easily exist in the real world.   Ironically, considering the lip service I gave it in school, I’ve actually become a huge fan and advocate for the corporate mission statement.   If done right, it provides a touchstone for all employees and a mainspring for all company objectives, entity goals, and team strategies. Next time we will take a look at some real life examples. Prepare your minds for blowing.


Russ is a CPA and former Controller with 15 years of accounting, auditing, banking and financial experience. He has spent the last six years as a senior consultant performing compliance audits and extensive SEC accounting/reporting work for many of Richmond’s largest companies (Carmax, Lumber Liquidators, PFG, LandAmerica, Saxon Mortgage, S&K and McKesson among others).  Prior to moving to Virginia, Russ tracked countless miles from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. helping a very large client base navigate the complexities of the 404 requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley.