These are, very often, at the heart of vision and mission statements for American businesses. Apple promises to “strengthen our long-standing commitment to making our company more inclusive and the world more just” while companies like JetBlue really reach for the stars: “[We aim] to inspire humanity — both in the air and on the ground.”
Former Secretary of Labor and UC Berkeley Professor Robert Reich, however — now an outspoken critic of predatory economic policies and practices — revealed the emperor’s new clothes:
“Real social change would prevent [CEOs] from doing many of the hugely profitable things they now do.” That means, he notes in a recent Guardian article, that they just won’t change — however grandiose vision statements might be.
I would argue there are three problems at play here.
The first is that vision statements are not adequately aligned to mission statements. Articulations of company vision are designed to be “pie in the sky,” inspirational statements. Mission statements are feet-on-the-ground practical, or at least they should be. However, they should serve one another: mission statements should map the first steps in the direction of grander vision. Vision statements should be traceable back to originating mission statements, i.e. what steps got us to pie-in-the-sky accomplishments?
More than that, however, there is a disconnect between the substance of vision vs. the makeup of mission. Too often, companies toss out a vision statement with implicit social responsibility at its core — care for the world, its people, and its environment. Mission statements, on the other hand, are often about doing the things that earn profit. Amazon is a perfect example: “[We aim] to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.” They actually take it a step further, labeling their commitment to the customer as an obsession rather than a focus. Between the lines are a trough of dollar signs.
This underscores the problem Reich emphasized in The Guardian: “[Businesses] are in the business of making as much money as possible, not solving social problems.”
There’s a third problem that few people talk about, however. The first two shine a spotlight squarely on business practice and contradiction — or, to be blunt, hypocrisy. But the consuming public has a role to play in fixing this. And we’re not.
The chasm between vision and mission for many American businesses has been allowed to linger — thrive, even. We swoon when we hear lofty visions, and shrug when we hear mission. But we don’t do much to hold businesses accountable for connecting them, and actually making good on vision statements. Many of us are too lazy to upend our buying habits and drop our conveniences to make a point — namely, that we won’t support businesses that aspire to social responsibility but do nothing about it. So where’s the accountability? Where’s the impetus for businesses to actually make change?
Reich closes his critical op-ed with a stinging barb. It’s good enough to repeat:
“The most telling trends over the last three decades have been the growing share of the economy going into corporate profits – generating ever-greater compensation packages for top executives and ever-higher payouts for big investors (all of whom live off shares of stock) – and the declining share going to most Americans as wages and salaries.
The meaningless blather over ‘corporate social responsibility’ is intended to mask these trends.”
What will we, the consumer public, do to change these trends? Equally as important, how will CEOs connect the dots between mission and vision to really produce the change their companies promise?