Storehouse of Stories: Power of a Mission Statement

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January 3, 2016

At some point, amid the turbulence of the airline industry, Southwest Airlines decided on an identity that has allowed it to remain competitive in a mature market with big competitors. Southwest Airlines was able to achieve this by drafting a mission statement and living by it. A mission statement is more than words written on a wall to make people feel good. When properly communicated, a mission statement allows employees to make everyday decisions. Southwest Airlines decided that its mission statement would be: to be the cost-effective airline. (Although, Southwest Airlines has recently modernized its mission statement to include customer-centrism.) How does this magical mission statement translate into everyday decisions? Let’s say you were a flight attendant and you discovered it was one of your passenger’s birthday. If you can’t imagine yourself being a flight attendant, recognize that there are male flight attendants or imagine someone else being a flight attendant. Let’s say you throw confetti on the passenger to celebrate their birth, which costs money itself, costs time (and, therefore, money) to clean up, both of which costs will be passed on to a customer, in addition to making the customer look like a tinseled Christmas tree. Armed with the mission statement of being the cost-effective airline, you or your imagined flight attendant will instead decide to announce it’s the passenger’s birthday over the flight intercom, instead of tinseling them. After all, saying something over the flight intercom is free and does not cost anything, maybe except asking for the passengers to pay attention, meaning no extra costs need to be passed on to a customer. Every business ought to learn from Southwest Airlines and all other organizations that use a mission statement in a similar fashion. After the mission statement is drafted, the key is communicating that mission statement to the entire organization, including the instruction that when a decision needs to be made, the team member asks herself: “what would the low-cost airline company do (or whatever your organization’s mission is)?” Empowering employees to make a decision based off of a mission statement aligns every team member to work towards the same future, builds in organizational consistency, and increases self-sufficiency, freeing up time for the organization.

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