Leading Teams Director, Kraig Grime, was interviewed by HR Daily about a recent survey that Leading Teams conducted on mission statements and values.

Nearly half of Australian employees don’t know their company’s mission statement or values, let alone find them inspirational, new research shows.

Only one in five Australian employees think their company mission statement and values are inspiring and motivating, according to the study of 500 Australian workers by leadership and team development specialists Leading Teams. Two in five believe their mission statement and values are so general they could apply to any company.

And while managers in senior leadership roles are most likely to find their company mission statement inspiring, the research found one in five managing directors or C-suite executives did not know their company mission statement or values.

Leading Teams director and former Air Force officer Kraig Grime puts it bluntly: “I go to some clients and I see a half-page mission statement with so much rhetoric in it, it’s clearly been written by someone so far up the chain they are out of touch with the worker.”

So is a mission statement worth the effort? Grime believes it is, but only if staff are involved in its formulation and have an emotional connection to it.

“We believe workers choose where they work,” he says. “If you work on a mission statement and involve people, they are there every day and they know what the business really does.”

Making it mean something

A few shining examples of mission statements resonate with employees and sometimes even the broader public, Grime says. Australian-founded technology company Atlassian, now an international success, is well known for its company values which include “Play, as a team”, “Open company, no bullshit” and “Don’t #@!% the customer”.

Google’s corporate motto “Don’t be evil” is a blessing and a curse, imbibing the internet juggernaut with a sense of purpose but also frequently used by outside critics to hold the company to account.

Grime says one of the best mission statement transformations he has seen was with Legal Aid, which provides legal services to disadvantaged people throughout Australia. It went from providing “efficient and effective” service to being “there for people who can’t afford a lawyer”.

One of his clients has a “no dickheads” policy.

In another case, the workers at a cigarette factory were simply unable to develop a meaningful mission statement. “They knew in their heart that what they were creating was killing people,” Grime says. “None of the tricks the HR people used were working.”

The mission statement has to mean something, Grime says, and that can only come out of a workplace where genuine conversations can take place. Often a mission statement that resonates is the end result of a longer process.

“To be honest, too many managers want a mission statement to tick a box, to placate owners or shareholders, or to use in the PR world, not to inspire staff,” he says. “Why wouldn’t you do it to motivate your staff?”

The process

“Often you see people trying to do the work, to do the right thing in terms of reviewing our mission statement and reviewing our value set, but they haven’t got strong enough relationships [between management and the workforce],” Grime says. “What you don’t want is for workers to give answers they think management want.”

Leading Teams’ solution, which comes out of its work with elite sports organisations including AFL clubs and the NSW State of Origin rugby team, is stopping work for two or three days and bringing the workforce together on a retreat. Workers share answers to questions such as “what is your proudest moment?”, “tell us something about yourself that nobody else knows”, and “what are your proudest possessions?”

After building rapport and venting some of their frustrations about the workplace, they get down to the business of building a mission statement that defines what they really do.

Genuine conversations are crucial, but Grime, who has an HR background, says HR at times is afraid of genuine conversations.

“When we say we are going to create a mission statement, involve 60 staff, go away for two days, and build the relationship between managers and workers, sometimes there is shock and horror on the face of the HR manager,” Grime says. “There are those in favour of empowering or engaging, and those who are a bit squeamish. It creates a lot of work.”

Kraig Grime

Kraig Grime

Kraig worked in leadership and change management at the Navy and Air Force for 20 years before joining Leading Teams in 2001. Kraig is based in Ballarat.