Dr. Cummings: What’s your mission?

October 20, 2013 

Ask a soldier in Afghanistan: “What’s your mission?” He’ll snap to attention and recite it with clarity and speed. He knows exactly what goal his unit is designed to achieve. His mission is firmly embedded in his head and everything he does during the day leads him to the accomplishment of that mission. It may take two months; it may take two years, but this soldier is going to get it done.

Ask an employee in your company: “What’s your mission?” The answer might be: “What?” You explain: “Mission means: why is your company here? What’s the purpose of your company? Why do you exist?” Do you think he’d know the answer?

Can you answer it?

Years ago in another town, I started consulting to a group of Ob/Gyn doctors. There were 15 of them seated around their board table and I asked them this same question. One by one they began to answer. The first one said: “Our mission is to bring babies into this world.” Another elaborated on this by adding: “No, our mission is to bring these babies into this world in a healthy state.” Others continued to jump in until one surly and totally disgusted doctor, who was the head of the group, banged his hand on the table and said: “Cut the BS; we all know why we’re here. We’re here to make as much money as we can.” “If that’s your mission,” I said, “you can be sure I’ll not send my pregnant daughter to you.”

All companies and organizations have the same mission. They may word it differently, but if they’re going to stay in business, all of them need to have one central purpose, one clear goal, one defining mission that explains their existence, and it must be this: “Our mission is to wow our customer.”

How they wow that customer depends on their industry. Gayco Healthcare Company in Dublin delivers thousands of prescribed meds to over 25 nursing homes every night, correctly and on time. Chris R. Sheridan & Co. builds churches and universities and hospitals and all of them are “on time, within budget.” Both of these companies wow their customers every day. You remember the movie: “Build it and they will come.” The same thing applies here: “Wow them and the money will come.”

But profit is not the mission. Profit comes because the mission is accomplished. When every employee -- like every soldier in a war -- clearly understands why his company exists and works every day to please his customer, the money will come. But when executives in the company, (like Enron) who are removed from the customer, begin to focus all their time and energy on “making money” and forget all about that customer stuff, the money dries up and the company closes.

How about us? If it works for companies, does it work for us? Yes. Each one of us needs to have a passionate mission in each stage of our lives. When we’re first married and before the children come, we are totally focused on one another and what we can do to please our spouses. When the kids come, the mission changes quickly. Now it’s all about their education and their ever-demanding needs; we don’t have time to think about anything else. And finally, when the nest is empty and we have the time to focus the mission on ourselves, the grandkids come. We have a sign that hangs over our kitchen sink that reads: “Nana’s Kitchen -- where memories are made and grandkids are spoiled.”

No one questions my wife’s mission.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com

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