Praise the Lord and Pass the Profits: UK-Based Writer Joe Cushnan Questions the Religious Fervour Behind Corporate Mission Statements

Article excerpt

In the blink of a couple of decades, Americanisms have infiltrated world commerce spreading a litany of one-liners, slogans, cultural folklore and the essence of fairytales all designed to make leaders sound wise and human and for employees to live with the illusion that they contribute something to the decision-making process. We all know that the bottom line rules, but it seems that corporate mission statements and sets of values are the new religion.

The Biblical proverb suggesting that where there is no vision, the people perish has been hijacked over the past 30 years by companies, initially American but now global, designing snappy ra-ra slogans and chants. They end in clenched fists and intimidating grunts to win the hearts, minds and souls of employees.

I have lost count of the number of times I have stood with the rest of my team hand-clapping our way through a ritual company song to enthuse us for the day ahead. This is routine tribal ceremony in many businesses across the nation. It is embarrassing and, dare I say, unnecessary to perform but frowned upon if not executed with visible relish and passion. The urge to nip off and hug a customer is strangely compelling.

The encouragement of an all-inclusive business culture was once a fad but now it has become a trend, essential in commercial industry if one's venture or enterprise is to be taken seriously.

A couple of years ago a middle manager at a company I worked for dashed rather enthusiastically to the chief executive's office and waxed lyrical about a visionary book he had read on a holiday beach. This book, one of hundreds of similar slim volumes churned out by rather slow-drawling American business consultants, purported to guarantee that its 180 pages were filled with a new doctrine to motivate people in any organisation.

It was called Gung Ho! and it drew its messages from supposed Native American beliefs in the wonders of nature. The three big themes were encompassed in the spirit of the squirrel, the way of the beaver and the gift of the goose. No, honestly.

There we were, United Kingdom citizens (and here in this international brotherhood you can insert your own identity, for you too are vulnerable to this stuff) with more in common with cats, dogs, budgies and hamsters, about to spend a three-day training course in the beach resort of Blackpool being gung-hoed.

My dictionary defines the term as unswervingly dedicated and loyal, and foolishly enthusiastic. Staring through the biting sea winds of the north-west coast of England, we wondered if our American cousins far across the Atlantic would believe that a bunch of Limeys had fallen for this management pantomime stuff.

Our venue had been prepared to resemble a forest with wood shavings on the floor, cardboard trees and cushions pretending to be tree stump seats. We would learn that the spirit of squirrels in their industrious search for nuts fulfils God's plan for the forest. The way of the beaver in their organisational ability to build dams fulfils God's plan for beavers generally and the gift of the goose is God's gift that we give ourselves because, I suppose, geese in their honking, cheery way, encourage each other along, especially on winter flights.

Our job on the course was to discuss and analyse all of this natural education and interpret it into a practical philosophy to help develop business, customer service and people. One of my colleagues remarked to me that it was all uncomfortably tribal and Waco, or possibly whacko.

Whatever we thought, our collective body language, learned from another course, was expected to be very positive. The directors had adopted a kind of spiritual air to demonstrate that it was possible to be saintly in hard line business.

Mission and values marketing is now seen to be important for a company's public image, but even more pertinent for employees to devote themselves completely to their employer and their work. …