Why motherhood (statements) have no place in business


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Motherhood Statement: A vague, “feel good” platitude, especially one made by a politician, that few people would disagree with. For example: “Our country must contribute to world peace.” Wiktionary

A few days ago I presented a new customer strategy to some of my The Customer Experience Company teammates. ‘It’s ok’, said my colleague Laurence, ‘but it’s a bit of a motherhood statement’. As a recent arrival in Australia, I had never heard this saying before, but I instantly understood what it meant. The vision was so generic, high level and uncontroversial that it was meaningless. Of course motherhood is a good thing, no one disputes that, but it doesn’t tell you anything new or move the conversation on.

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The more I work with clients on customer strategies, and the more I experience service principles, the more I see motherhood statements. Advertising Age and Inc. agree, and highlight some painful examples from global companies:

  • Yahoo powers and delights our communities of users, advertisers and publishers – all of us united in creating indispensable experiences, and fueled by trust’. Very nice, but essentially meaningless.
  • ‘McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink. Our worldwide operations are aligned around a global strategy called the Plan to Win, which center on an exceptional customer experience – People, Products, Place, Price and Promotion’. Both vague and internally focused, before we even start on the grammar…
  • ‘Save money. Live better’. Walmart has made its advertising slogan and mission statement the same, and in the process made it irrelevant to everyone.

The trouble with motherhood statements is that by saying nothing, they are worse than useless. The purpose of a strategy and principles is to simplify things; they give direction, set expectations and enable staff to make decisions. Rapid decision-making is a source of competitive advantage, part of the ’start-up mentality‘ that big companies are embracing. However simpering, generic statements provide none of this clarity, and so generate endless debate and navel gazing.

Motherhood statements create no buy in among colleagues and can leave people feeling disenfranchised, because it is meaningless to them. Most dangerous of all, they provoke knee jerk reactions. As leaders begin to realise the lack of direction, they jump to solve the problem by creating greater clarity. Unfortunately this clarity usually comes in the form of a financial target, which is often arbitrary and only serves to further disenfranchise staff.

  • ‘We define favourite through NPS, and aim to achieve industry best figures of +50’.
  • ‘We test and retest our meals in blind tasting to continuously tailor to people’s tastes’.
  • We create social ecosystems to make Maccas more like a club as a fast food joint.’

There are also plenty of examples of successful companies with great mission statements:

  • Aim high, be inspiring: ‘To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online’. [Amazon]
  • Bring it to life, make it memorable: ‘Don’t #@!% the Customer’ [Atlassian]. ‘When we make decisions we ask ourselves, “How will this affect our customers?” If the answer is that it would screw them over, or make life more difficult, then we need to find a better way. We want the customer to respect us in the morning’.
  • Set direction, don’t try to capture everything you do: ‘We will be the low fare airline.’ [Southwest Airlines]
  • Let people tailor it to their context: ‘At IKEA our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people. Our business idea supports this vision by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them’.
  • Keep it simple: ‘At Virgin Atlantic, our mission statement is simple. To grow a profitable airline, where people love to fly, and where people love to work.’

Some of the best advice on this subject comes from the author of the last statement, Richard Branson. In his article for the Entrepreneur website, he recommends applying the twitter test; can you summarise your mission statement in 140 characters? (let me save you the effort, Virgin Atlantic’s is exactly 139…)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Smith
Colin Smith is a Manager at the Customer Experience Company in Sydney, Australia. He has 15 years experience working throughout Australia, Asia and Europe. Most recently Colin worked as a Principal Strategy Consultant for Huawei, China's biggest telecoms company based in their South China Head Office.


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