If You Have a Mission Statement, Do Your Employees Know?

Tips on training employees on your organization’s mission.


About a week ago, with sore feet, I stood at the counter of a retail space leased by Ted Baker in the SoHo Bloomingdales in New York City. I was taken there by a Bloomingdales employee, who told me she would accept the shoes I sought to return, but the decision wasn’t up to her. I bought the shoes from a company that leased space within the department store, rather than from the department store itself, so they were the ones who would make the decision about my hoped-for return.

I had worn the shoes, floral-pattern sneakers, one time for no more than a few hours to take a long walk and run errands. By the end of those few hours, I had developed blisters and irritation on my feet. The sneakers were still in pristine, perfect condition—except the soles were dirty. I had diligently walked back and forth in the store before purchasing the shoes, but hadn’t realized how uncomfortable they were until I tried to wear them out and about in real life. The store manager was unsympathetic and unyielding, and refused the return, even for store credit, leaving me with a $220 pair of shoes I couldn’t wear again. I told her I would never purchase from Ted Baker again, and would do my best to make sure my friends and family didn’t either. She said nothing in return, but wished me a great day.

Was this a poor employee, or a good one robotically following her training? I have returned more than a few pairs of worn shoes to other companies over the years that were unwearable in real life outside a store’s fitting room. The philosophy of those other companies I was able to return shoes to was doubtless that it’s far better to create happy customers who return and make future purchases, than an angry one, who will never return and will be sure to galvanize her friends and family to likewise stay away from the company. The companies that take the friendlier approach may have decided that their ultimate mission is to create happy customers. They may have trained their employees to understand that they have the discretion, within a framework of at least a few hundred dollars, to make decisions that result in a customer leaving happy rather than angry.

Does your organization have a mission? If your mission is to do what is necessary to create happy customers—that the most important job of employees is to create happy customers—do your employees understand that?

I found tips on training employees on your mission from a blog by training vendor Insperity. One of the tips is to “narrow your vision,” so employees understand how to implement it. The blog offers this example from Toyota: “Toyota will lead the way of the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people.”

Maybe Ted Baker’s mission statement should be: “We create products that improve lives and make people happy. No one should leave a Ted Baker store or leased space feeling they are not happy with our products, and were not well-served by our company.”

That statement is easy to understand and train on, especially if you give managers parameters within, say, $500, or less, to do what is necessary to turnaround a negative customer experience.

Instead, this vague statement is Ted Baker’s mission statement: “To build a successful company by encouraging team members to conduct themselves in an efficient and courteous manner and by maintaining Ted’s high standards and integrity.”

The mission statement is focused on employee behavior, and makes an abstract reference to maintaining “high standards and integrity,” but says nothing of what the impact of that behavior and high standards and integrity should be on customers. An employee would have no way of looking at that mission statement and understanding what should be done when an angry customer is standing before them.

As an important aside, I had to visit a fashion industry wiki to find the company’s mission statement. I couldn’t find it on the company’s Website. The mission statement should be customer-centric, rather than employee-centric, and should be in a place where both employees and the public can easily find it. I did find this page, however, detailing the company’s business model.

“Articulate your values” and “Align your employees” are a few other tips Insperity offers to ensure employees understand and apply your mission statement. In the case of a retail company’s return policy, that would mean conducting role-play exercises in which a store manager, like the one I dealt with, would be forced to talk through an issue with an angry customer, and learn how to not just wish them a “great day,” but do what is necessary for them to return another day.

What is your most important goal for front-line employees? What have you taught them about their mission? That they be topnotch rule enforcers and gatekeepers, or that they specialize in creating customers who become advocates for your brand?

How do you train customer-facing employees on your company’s mission statement? What has worked best for your organization?