20/20 Vision Indecision
July 1 1992 by Robert Bittlestone
Bob: So it’s agreed then. We’ll give them 24 hours to get over their Labor Day hangover, then on September 9, 1992, we’ll hit them with it. It’ll be a red letter day for Intergroup Holdings; the day we broadcast our corporate mission statement. A new sense of direction for all our people!
Elaine: Well, as Intergroup’s marketing VP, I think we should read it one more time, just to make sure everyone’s absolutely comfortable with it.
Bob: Good idea. Olaf, take us through those polished phrases.
Olaf :OK, Bob: Here we go: “Walking Tall with Intergroup: Our Five Shared Pillars of Wisdom: These five mission-critical principles clarify and communicate our strategy, helping us all to pull in the same direction. Read them! Share them! Use them to realize your own potential, and to take Intergroup to yet greater heights!”
Harry: Bob, I’m just wondering here if any of those bozos on Wall Street are going to be calling me to ask if by “yet greater heights” our baseline is last year’s $230 million loss. Maybe we should be talking about “greater heights” instead. Or perhaps we should play it safe with “arguably not insignificant heights.”
Bob: Harry, I appreciate the concern, but I don’t want your natural conservatism as a CFO to denature this achievement of ours. How can we get our people excited by asking them to identify with that? You might as well talk about “one arguably not insignificant step for mankind.”
Olaf: Anyway, back to our principles. “One: Intergroup will be the market-leading innovator.
Two: We will strive to satisfy our customers and employees.
Three: We will be No. 1 in our core business sectors.
Four: We will differentiate ourselves from our competition.
Five: Our return on assets will amply remunerate our shareholders.”
Jack: I have to carry this message to the regions, so let me just make sure I understand this new configuration of ours. What is it again?
Gunter: As I recall, we said we would separate our five different businesses into core and non-core activities.
Harry: Right, core businesses have to have high growth rates and high returns, plus we must be market dominant.
Olaf: Hold on. I think we have a problem here.
Bob: No problems, Olaf, just opportunities, remember?
Olaf: OK, Bob, I think we are looking at an opportunity to go round in circles on this one. The definition of the core business sectors is that we must be market dominant. But our draft mission statement says, “We will be No. 1 in our core business sectors.”
But we’ve just defined our core business sectors as those in which we are already market dominant. So our third pillar of wisdom is “We will be No. 1 in the sectors where we are already No. 1″?
Bob: Now wait a minute…
Elaine: What about the phrase, “We will strive to satisfy our customers and employees”? I just got hold of a bootleg copy of Trendsetter Tunics’ new mission statement, and it says: “We will achieve unparalleled customer satisfaction and employee morale,” while the pamphlet The See-Through Way from See-Through Sartorials says: “Every client a satisfied client; every employee happy on the job.”
Bob: I shouldn’t worry about See-Through. They’ve got no chance of achieving that.
Elaine: Well, maybe not, but their mission statement sounds close enough to ours to make our fourth pillar of wisdom, “We will differentiate ourselves from our competition,” a tad problematic. I can just see the press pouncing on this one.
Olaf: Now there’s a book called “Managing the Unknowable,” by Ralph Stacey, which casts a pall on our pillar No. 1. Stacey says that if everyone is striving to innovate, innovation itself provides no edge. He concludes: “The key question is not how to create stable equilibrium organizations, but how to establish sufficient constrained instability to provoke complex learning. It is through complex learning that businesses manage and create unknowable futures.”
Bob: This is an outrage! Of course, our vision differentiates itself from the competition. After all, we’re Intergroup, aren’t we? And as for instability, complexity and unknowable futures, that flies in the face of everything we believe in. Our budgetary control is there to help us stamp out the unstable variances, and the whole point of our strategic retreat is to make the future knowable. It works, so for goodness’ sake let’s not get ourselves distracted by all this academic moonshine. Chaos indeed! Why, any moment now someone will suggest that we can’t predict what the competition will be up to by the end of our five-year plan!
Elaine: Bob, strictly from a marketing perspective I was going to comment ..
Gunter: Productionwise, we are weighing whole new technologies .. .
Kevin: I’m looking at downsizing and groupware; it’s really a completely different ballgame .. .
Olaf: Bob, I’ve got it! How about this redraft?
“One: Over the next five years, the market will change radically.
Two: We have no possible way of predicting the world of 1997.
Three: So just try and be as flexible and open-minded as you can.
Four: Don’t feel you have to shout down people promoting weird ideas.
Five: Hold your pants on: Here we go!”
Bob: And I suppose you already have a new title?
Olaf: Well Bob, how about: “Into the Unknown with Intergroup!”?
Robert Bittlestone is founder and chief executive of Metapraxis, a London and New York-based consulting group specializing in executive information and strategic control.