I'm not really a fan of mission statements. Rather than being an exercise in inspiration, looking at an aggregated list of the mission statements of the Fortune 500 companies makes you realise how vague and riddled with corporate-speak many of them are. Mission statements are all too often just that – a statement of intent that is not really brought to life through the culture and daily interactions of the business.
That said, I think it's very important for companies to have defined values that inform their culture, vision, hiring choices and just about everything they do. As Fred Wilson once said:
"Companies are not people. But they are comprised of people. And the people side of the business is harder and way more complicated than building a product is. You have to start with culture, values, and a committment to creating a fantastic workplace. You can't fake these things. They have to come from the top. They are not bullshit. They are everything. There will be things that happen in the course of building a business that will challenge the belief in the leadership and the future of the company. If everyone is a mercenary and there is no shared culture and values, the team will blow apart. But if there is a meaningful culture that the entire team buys into, the team will stick together, double down, and get through those challenging situations."
Some of these articluations of company culture can be very powerful (like the note that greets Apple employees on their first day). In a separate post, Fred mentions the nine things that Twilio (the web and mobile apps telephony business which is a portfolio company of Union Square) have set out as their values (click to enlarge).
One of my favourites, though, is Biz Stone's set of seven assumptions that he says all Twitter employees are asked to pay attention to and embrace. Despite the fact that we know making assumptions isn’t ideal, he says, we do it anyway so if you’re going to make them, make it these:
- We don't always know what's going to happen. And that’s OK.
- Leave space for the unknown.
- There’s a creative answer to every problem.
- There are more smart people outside your company than there are inside. Use them.
- We will win if we always do the right thing for our users.
- The only deal worth doing is a win-win deal.
- Your co-workers are smart, and they have good intentions.