Conventional Wisdom Be Damned: Part 2

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


The Obvious Answer: Because by the time the various Board Members, Committee Members and Stakeholders have all hashed it out and wordsmithed it to death, and ensured that we haven’t overreached, or under-reached, blah, blah, the company is left with a bland, ‘lowest common denominator’ statement that offends no-one, adds nothing to what everyone already knows, and wouldn’t inspire the keenest employee to bother getting out of bed in the morning. Be honest: Of all the various Mission and Vision Statements you have ever read, was there even one that really moved you? Can you even remember any of them? If the answer is no, if the Mission Statement isn’t raising the company up, then it’s bringing the company down.

The Less Obvious Answer: Five years ago, my wife and I went to the Toronto Home Show, which was about five thousand different booths, and we tried to see every one (bored out of my mind, I was). We came across one that sold underfloor radiant water heating, which we were thinking of installing. My wife wanted to be sure that the pipes could never burst and flood the house. The saleslady tried everything, from references, to insurance, to parent company guarantees. Why wife pushed: ‘Well, how do I know your company is even going to be around?’ Salesperson (a bit impatiently): ‘This company has been around for 200 years, so that is one thing you don’t need to worry about.’

Suddenly, I am not at all bored. It went like this:

Geoff: Huh? What did you just say?
Salesperson: We are a Dutch company that has been around since the early 1800’s.
Geoff: Well, for sure you weren’t selling underfloor radiant water heating systems in the early 1800’s, right? (being a pretty astute fellow.)
Salesperson: That’s right, we got into business originally by selling cannonballs.

So, think about that, please, just for a minute. Because when I do, it makes my head spin. I am always looking for a competitive edge for EllisDon, and I have known now for five years precisely what I want. I want what that company has. Problem is, I don’t know what it is.

But back to the original point: If that company had a Mission Statement (I am sure it didn’t), I am guessing it would have been something like: ‘To be the most proficient and lowest cost cannonball manufacturer supplying the European market.’

And for sure, that Mission Statement would have condemned it to death.

And that is why I believe Mission Statements are lethally dangerous.

Here’s what I believe: Values are forever, absolutely everything else can change at a moment’s notice.