I learned a new term this weekend: Babbling Yoga. It’s a phrase that explains something I hear all too often when it comes to corporate mission statements. I just didn’t have a good way to describe it – until now.
What is yoga babbling? “It’s like my yoga teacher is dealing with investor relations,” says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU. He made the reference in a Sunday New York Times article on the recent crop of troubled IPOs, some of which are led by founders who substitute noble rhetoric for real profits.
For example, WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann resigned after an unsuccessful attempt to take the company public. Investors were fed up with his lavish spending and impulsive ideas. In light of the fact that the company lost $ 1.6 billion last year, Neumann’s mission to “raise awareness of the world” has started to crumble, especially for a company that is under- rents offices.
Neumann is not alone, of course. Corporate missions that “transform people’s lives” or “unleash the creative energy of the world” are commonplace. But the rising rhetoric is increasingly met with skepticism. “People’s radar for yoga babbling is on high alert right now,” Galloway said.
While the radar is on high alert, companies shouldn’t completely dismiss the mission statement. Carefully written mission statements are useful if they meet three criteria. First, a mission statement must be specific. Second, it must be ambitious but achievable. Third, his words must be consistent with the actions of the CEO or founder.
Be specific. The problem with the mission of WeWork and the others in the New York Times article is that they lack specificity. “Businesses need a mission statement that is concrete enough to describe what they will do, as well as what they will not do,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith.
Earlier this year, I had a conversation with senior executives at TaylorMade golf. The company’s mission is to be “the best performance golf brand in the world”. The company is highly specialized and clearly focuses only on the game of golf. They are not trying to raise anyone’s consciousness. They know their way and they intend to stay there and take it.
Be ambitious. Let’s take a look at the mission statement for Southwest Airlines, one of America’s most admired airlines. Its mission is dedicated to “the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride and entrepreneurship”. It is specifically dedicated to customer service, but it is also ambitious. While the mission is not quite as lofty as to “unleash the creative energy of the world,” it is dedicated to being among the best brands in America.
You don’t always have to change the world. Aspiring to be the best in your field will inspire you, your employees and your investors.
To be coherent. If leaders do not live up to the values they express in a mission statement, then this is a worthless exercise. Empty rhetoric dampens motivation.
Investors may tire of companies that “put the world in motion” (Uber) or “unleash the potential of human creativity” (Spotify), but the company’s mission statement always has a purpose. A carefully crafted mission can help your team focus on the right things and motivate them to be the best in the class. Just keep the babbling of yoga out of it.