Imposing Coherence: Ever-Shifting Mission Statements


At a recent industry presentation, I had the chance to see several of Google’s high-ranking executives provide the high level elevator pitch about how they’ve evolved and where they’re headed as a company.

Putting a shiny, consistent wrapper on any company that has dozens, then hundreds, of products, must never be easy. So you update, transform, and reorient the language until everything seems to fit.

The Google exec who kicked off the day announced that Google was fundamentally an “innovation” company.

Why not. Even as broad as it is, a mission statement like “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible” might tend to hem you in, if you plan to do something cool with lasers next year.

The clever thing about saying you’re an innovation company is that you open the doors to innovators around the globe and in any technical field who may wish to come join you. Yet you stay rooted in that quintessential “Hewlett Packard” “in a California garage” mentality. We’ll get the right people on the bus — innovators — and build cool stuff. Growth potential: unlimited. So Google gets to have unlimited growth potential, yet stay rooted in a particular “place,” all at once.

Making life this coherent can’t be easy. The danger, of course, is that your mission statements and positioning become diluted. In which case (like SCJohnsonafamilycompany or P&G), the specific brands and divisions need to have their own strong identities and relationships with customers. That’s undoubtedly true of any conglomerate, and it doesn’t make them unprofitable or bad companies.

But it does make the overarching wrapper, and the lofty speeches about the diversified company being “a family company” or “an innovation company,” mostly just a feel-good cultural exercise. Or in terms more understandable to people in smaller, more entrepreneurial companies, “time wasters”.

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