Category Archives: Org. Culture

Cultural and environmental issues

Where Have All The Scruples Gone?

Star Registry Web Site

On the way to the gym this morning I heard a radio ad that I’ve heard several times before. It’s from the International Star Registry. It’s a mind-boggling scam.

These people offer the chance to “name a star”, and tout it as a “great gift” — “a gift that will last a lifetime”. And, “your gift will be registered in book form in the US Copyright Office.” In some weird sort of way, it almost seems like a nice idea.

You can almost imagine taking your honey out to Lookout Point on a clear starry night, pointing up just to the right of the Big Dipper and saying, “Look, Dear, there’s the Candy Smith star. I had it named just for you.” And as you melt together into the evening, it all seems so perfect.

But it’s a complete lie. Take a quick look at the web site’s FAQ. Aside from several questions about how to order, there’s the real meat of the matter. Q: Am I buying the star? A: No. We do not own the star, so we cannot sell it to you.

More importantly: Q: Will the scientific community recognize my star name? A: No. We are a private company that provides Gift Packages. Astronomers will not recognize your name because your name is published only in our Star catalog. We periodically print a book called Your Place in the Cosmos © which lists the stars that we have named.

So let me see if I have this right. For my $59 – $159 I get a certificate from you that says you named some random star in my name. You will occasionally print out a list of these names and send it to the copyright office (as any author can). And that’s it. No one will recognize this name, and all I have to show for it is a credit card receipt and a piece of paper.

It begs an important question: how do these people sleep at night?

The International Star Registry sold something they don’t own, have no inventory of, have an unlimited supply of, and have essentially no cost-of-goods-sold. It’s raw profit. I could also print out a piece of paper that says “This star over here is the CLWill star”, send it in at essentially no cost to the US Copyright Office, and I’d have the exact same effect.

This is an incredibly inventive scam. But it begs an important question: how do these people sleep at night?

I can understand how some low life came up with this idea over a couple of beers. I can even understand that there are people in this world like this scammer who live for separating fools from their money. I don’t like that, but I realize they exist.

What I wonder about is all the other people in the organization. This can’t be a small endeavor. There are people answering the phone. People entering things into the database. People handling the accounting, payroll, taxes, etc. People developing the ads and the web site. There must be a dozen or more people involved in this scam.

It turns my stomach from 2,000 miles away

How do they all sleep? They all must know the ridiculousness of the deal. They must all start out chuckling at the people who order. But at some point it has to turn sickening. There just has to be silly levels of turnover as people tire of cheating their fellow man (or woman).

Then I wonder, what is this organizational culture like? Do people cheat and connive each other into promotions and raises? Do they stab each other in the back? If they scam strangers for a living, they must treat each other like crap.

On a personal level, can they really look themselves in the mirror every morning as they head off to work, and think this is really OK? Do they go to church and talk about “doing unto others”? What do they teach their children about work ethics? It turns my stomach from 2,000 miles away (they’re in Illinois), I can’t imagine being involved in such a thing.

And as I’m typing this blog entry, I got a new piece of spam from the “Heritage Registry of Who’s Who”. The exact same scam, in different clothes. Add in the incessant diet drug ads that proliferate this time of year, and the incredibly annoying ads for Enzyte, “for natural male enhancement” and you wonder, where have all the scruples gone?

Too Many Dealers, Not Enough Customers

Car in a Shopping Cart

Here’s a quiz for you: who has more retail outlets — Starbucks or General Motors (GM)?

If you listen to all the late night comics with their shtick on Starbucks and how there’s one on every corner, you think you know the answer. Well, you’d be wrong. Starbucks has about 6,300 company-owned stores and GM has almost 7,000 dealerships. Wow…

Now this is just a little unfair, Starbucks has another couple thousand franchise locations inside places like grocery stores and theme parks. And GM owns virtually none of their stores. But the fact that the numbers are even in the same ball park is stunning to me.

I wrote a couple of months ago about what a terrible experience buying a car is, and the toll it takes on the people who have to do it for a living (see that piece here). And about how the differences between the retail experiences can be easily seen here.

It’s a sick business that someone needs to change.

Simply put, buying a car is the worst shopping experience that you can have. Bar none. And people with any scruples find it impossible to work in the business for very long. It’s a sick business that someone needs to change.

I don’t mean to pick on GM just for the excess of dealers. A piece in the Wall Street Journal today (subscription-only link here) points out that none of the US automakers are immune from this issue. All the “big three” have well over 2-1/2 times the number of dealers per point of market share of Toyota, for example. Perhaps that (and this) explains why Toyota is doing so well, and eating Detroit’s lunch.

I think this excess of dealers is one good reason for the problem. Too many dealers chasing too few customers. And it leads to a fetid culture of sleeze-ball sales tactics, terrible service, and lousy margins. It’s little more than vultures preying on the few customers there are.

Starbucks has nothing in their store that costs over $250, and the vast majority of sales are under $10. I don’t know for certain, but I would have to imagine that their average transaction is in the $5 range. This just begs for a lot of outlets, to make the impulse purchase easy.

Why on earth do they need so many stores?

GM, on the other hand, probably has an average transaction around $10,000. I don’t know many people who decide on a whim to just drop by the Cadillac store and pop for a new $60,000 Escalade. Or stop in for a quick brake job. Why on earth do they need so many stores (or brands, but that’s another story)?

If the new purchasers of Chrysler, Cerberus Capital Management LP, want to really make an impact on the car business, they could start here. And rumor has it, they are going to — by combining all the Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep dealers together. It’s a good start.

Forgive the Hiatus

Champagne

If you’ve followed along with this blog, you know a couple of things:

  • It’s past time for some sort of recognition for the one year anniversary, and
  • I’ve been quite remiss in posting over the last month or so.

As to the former, I say: “bah humbug!” I have grown weary of reading all the celebratory posts from people trumpeting their “blogiversary” as if it really mattered.

Suffice it to say, if you like doing this whole blogging thing, the first year flew by. If you did it for all the wrong reasons (because you’d become rich, or famous, or quoted, or perhaps even noticed) then it probably was a year of pure torture and pretty soon it will fade into obscurity. I like to think that for me, it was the first of these…

As to the lack of meaningful content herein over the last several weeks, I’d like to proclaim a number of really good excuses. To wit:

  • I came to the aid of a fellow blogger who, under relentless denial-of-service attacks, had to move immediately from one blogging platform to another. This resulted in herculean efforts to design, move, convert, and deploy an entirely new solution in record time. It went off with nary a hitch, and I’m pleased to note that the bad guys are being stopped at the gate (to the tune of 10,000+ attacks a day).
  • My main Windows computer breathed its last breath, a result of euthanasia. I’ve spent the last month making the final move of my life from Windows to the Mac — a sort of conversion that, like those of a spiritual nature, involves great joy and discovery coupled with several rites of passage. I plan to write much more about this experience in a more appropriate forum to be announced later.

  • Our eldest son just graduated from high school, and that comes with an inordinate amount of anticipation, preparation, visitation, celebration, and recuperation. This was a wonderful time for us all (dampened only slightly by a cruel theft of the diploma…), but one that is good to have behind us.

None of this is really justification for my lack of posting here, but it might explain to those around me the incredible lack of sleep I’ve had over the past month or two. And it does indicate why there has been at least a little to celebrate around here.

So, dear reader, please forgive the unintended hiatus, and stay tuned… I promise a reinvigorated effort in short order.

The Art of the Annual Report

Closeup of financial documents

It’s annual report season again, and with it comes the flood of plastic wrapped envelopes to our mailbox that carry the once-a-year bounty of glossy, over-polished, and saccharin manifestos from publicly traded firms. This is “the art of the annual report”.

I look forward to this flood, it offers insights that are hard to get any other way. Inside these envelopes, you get an unmodified view of the company. Certainly it is not an objective view, yet that is what makes it such a clear view.

You can tell volumes about companies and their culture by what they choose to portray in their annual report. Once a year, companies get a chance to tell the world who they are, what they stand for, and what they are trying to accomplish. And they can do it in a forum that is completely unadulterated by outside forces like the media or their critics.

Yes, of course, the government and tradition mandate that some information be included. And since most companies include their proxy information in the same mailing, included are some required documents to support their voting process. But if you take the time to look carefully at the whole package, the insights are many.

First and foremost, the report itself is a gold mine of company culture information. Because most companies try so hard to make the report a show piece, it is quite telling to see how they present it. There are some very interesting things to look at:

  • Is it a very polished, glossy document (over-polished)? Or a businesslike and direct report (not professional enough)?
  • Does it feature pictures of just the CEO (are they an egotist)? Or the executive staff (diverse)? Or the products (hiding the leadership team)? Or the employees (trying too hard to appear egalitarian)?
  • Does it overflow with flowery language about “the world today” and “XYZ Corp.’s place in it” (taking themselves a little too seriously)? Does it have a sense of humor (or even too much) Or is it just a dry recounting of economics (oh, lighten up)?
  • Is it written in the form of a letter from the leader(s) or with the polish of a marketing piece?
  • Who is that target audience? Shareholders? Employees? Competitors?
  • How much did it cost to produce? Those are your shareholder dollars you’re holding…
  • Most importantly, what does it say about the vision for the company? What are they trying to accomplish? Is it clear, obvious, obtainable and yet still a stretch?

These are all interesting questions, and they tell you a great deal about the culture. I like to read it wearing several hats. What would this mean to me if I worked there? Is this company just a vehicle to express the ego of the CEO? What would I think if I were their competition?

It’s a gold mine of information about the company and its leadership.

And then there are the wonderful proxy materials. Here’s where you get a lot of interesting stuff. In here are all the gory details of executive compensation, perks, and other dark secrets they try to bury in pages of dense text on toilet-paper-thin paper. It’s a gold mine of information about the company and its leadership.

The proxy materials are where I (and most of the world) found out about Robert Nardelli (formerly CEO of Home Depot) and his truly absurd contract and pay package. I wrote about it here, and since they were required to quote essentially the whole contract, it was great fun to read. This info proved to be a key part of Nardelli’s downfall. But you had to read the annual report to see it.

So I encourage you to welcome this bounty of “annual report art”. Next, I’ll talk about my favorite one of them, but in the meantime, don’t just toss them in the recycle bin. Plumb each and every one for the hidden gems that lay within.

Driven to Work

Car in Shopping Cart

I had to buy a new car yesterday. Interesting that I said “had to”, isn’t it? Pretty much sums up the state of the car buying experience these days. Despite all the potential for fun — lots of new shiny toys, all the options in the world to choose from, flashy ads from the car companies, the ecstasy of driving home in that new car smell — car retailers work furiously to take all the joy out of the process.

I used to have a nasty new car addiction, about half of the reason I kicked the habit was the pain of dealing with the dealers. I’m just over it, and I’m now driving a seven year old car with 100,000 miles on it. The car I bought yesterday was for someone else, or I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a dealership.

Why is this the only retail experience like this?

You see, when it comes to bargains, I’m not much of a hunter, I’m more of a gatherer. I’ll do all kinds of research so I know what a good price is, but if I have to fight for the price, it’s just not worth it. This makes me a lamb to slaughter in a car dealership. And they seem to sense it.

The whole experience is just rancid, and set up to make it absolutely horrible for the customer. It begs a lot of questions:

  • Why is it considered OK that ten different people would pay ten different prices for the exact same item, based solely on their skill at this silly game?
  • What happens to people who either don’t understand the game or can’t play it at all?
  • Why is it that you don’t even negotiate with the person directly, but send your representative (the salesperson, who is on the other team) into a mysterious back room to negotiate on your behalf?
  • Why is it that you have to threaten to leave before you have a deal?
  • Why is this the only retail experience like this? You don’t buy groceries, or appliances, or even a house this way.
  • How did the process get this way? Who came up with this process that is exactly the same in every dealership?
  • Why can’t anyone really change this terrible experience? Companies have tried (Saturn, Lexus) but it never sticks, and just rots into this same fetid mess.

But even these aren’t the questions that got me to thinking yesterday. I wonder about the people who have to live in this festering boil of a work environment, and what it does to them.

I wonder about the people who have to work in this festering boil.

As I was pacing waiting for yet another deal volley over the net to be returned, I was asked by another salesman if I was “having fun, yet”. I replied: “I’d rather be at the proctologist’s. I don’t know how you can do this for a living.” He said: “It’s my third day.”

What struck me was the way he said it. It was a combination of shame, humiliation, and resignation. Although I can’t say from experience, I would imagine you’d get the same answer from a new prostitute. I immediately thought, how sad.

Now that I think about it, I’ve never met a car salesperson who didn’t aspire to something else. Well, there are those who take a perverse glee in this sick game. But they aren’t common. Most just seem to be there until they get something better, or just something else that doesn’t involve french fry oil.

The whole car buying experience is so wrong.

The whole car buying experience, and the people in it, is so wrong. Even the latest innovation of getting multiple bids on-line is just a mask for the problem, as soon as you enter the dealer’s lair, you’re meat. How come some creative company can’t fix the whole thing?

What Hath God Wrought?

Man Meditating

At the risk of venturing into a philosophical quagmire about various religions or value of faith in general, there is a trend afoot that makes me question the role of religion in the workplace. I am struck by the ascendancy of new Christian movements into various secular portions of society such as law, government, and business. I’ll leave it to others to question the rest, but I have strong views about the place of religion in business.

Before anyone begins by impugning my own faith, I probably should lay that on the table. I grew up in what could be called a mildly protestant family, neither zealots nor godless, and spent years in school where there were multiple mandatory chapel services each week. But little of that has permeated my business life, and I think that’s for the best.

Recently, however, as the world seems to be fragmenting along religious lines, it seems people like me are fewer and farther between. Somehow, in this world of Shiite vs. Sunni, Jew vs. Muslim, Protestant vs. Catholic, and on and on, it’s rarely simple enough to disagree but you apparently have to go to war over it. More and more people seem to think it’s OK to draw lines based on religion as if thousands of years of history haven’t taught us any better.

They feel the workplace is a fertile ground for spreading their gospel.

And now it seems that there is a tendency for evangelical christians, especially, to feel that the workplace is an appropriate, and even fertile, ground for spreading their gospel. There is even an organization called Christ @ Work that is trying to promote this kind of thing.

Created by Crown Financial Ministries, the organization and website of the “Fellowship of Companies in Christ” is eye-opening (check out the questionnaire, or the employee emails section). And like most similar organizations, Christ @ Work is deeply conflicted. For example, it claims to be “a non-denominational organization”, presumably as long as it’s Christian.

Various companies call themselves “faith-based”. An example you see everyday and probably haven’t thought much about is Covenant Transportation. This is a publicly-traded Tennessee-based trucking company whose trucks are seen nationwide.

I first noticed Covenant when I saw “It’s a child, not a choice” plastered on the back of a trailer. I wondered if it was simply one trucker expressing an opinion… until I saw it on every trailer. No, Covenant seems to think that expressing a controversial opinion in such a broad way is a good thing.

Regardless of where you stand on the abortion issue, their use of the company fleet to take a stand on a controversial issue has to be a bad thing. Do they have a litmus test for all employees (“are you pro-life”)? That would be illegal under EEOC rules. Do they turn down deliveries destined for Planned Parenthood? I believe, as a licensed common carrier, that too would be illegal. Does their business suffer to some degree because of this controversial stand? Do they not want a pro-choice stockholder?

Curiously enough, the only place Covenant mentions that they are “faith-based” is on the About page (oh… and the back of every truck). The rest of the site only talks about what a great place it is to work, with “great pay, and great values”. In fact they stress the individual:

We encourage individuality. We encourage you to be yourself. We encourage you to see our company in your own unique way.

Presumably as long as your way of seeing includes the pro-life sticker on the back of your truck.

I find this whole trend utterly offensive. I don’t really care what you do on Sunday, or Saturday, or during Ramadan, as long as you get along well with the other children and get your work done. I fully and completely support your right to hold dear whatever beliefs you have, and if those beliefs require you to dress, eat, or worship in a specific manner, please do so. But the minute your beliefs reflect on the organization as a whole or, worse yet, challenge those of others, that’s where I draw the line.

It is the height of hubris for management to force its beliefs on the employees.

And I get truly incensed when a secular organization chooses to take an overtly religious position. It is the height of hubris to think that the management team somehow has the right to force its beliefs on the employees. Each and every person at Covenant is assumed by the general public to be pro-life. It’s not only a bad answer to WWJD, it’s certainly not supporting the individual, and it’s just wrong.

As an interesting side note, the title of this post: the famous saying “What hath God wrought“, was an example of religion creeping into business. It is a verse from the Bible (Numbers 23:23) but was most famously used by Samuel Morse as the first message sent by Morse Code. One can argue forever, perhaps, about whether this is a better line than Alexander Graham Bell’s “Watson, come here I want you”, but there is little doubt the latter is vastly less likely to spark a debate about the existence of a supreme being — unless Watson thought the voice was from the beyond…

Blog Flux Business Blog Directory

Blog Flux Business Blog Directory

Since you’re reading this site about business, perhaps you’d be interested in reading a number of other blogs on business topics. One of the best directories of this sort is the Blog Flux Business Blogs directory.

I find it fascinating to just troll through this directory looking for people with interesting things to say. Certainly it can be a chore to separate the wheat from the chaff, but there are some very unusual things to see.

Persistence, Patience, and Profits

Toyota Logo

The New York Times Magazine had a wonderful cover story yesterday about Toyota and their path to world dominance. This is a great read for most of corporate America, a modern day tale of the tortoise and the hare.

There are many interesting parts of this wonderful article, from the discussion about the creation of the new Tundra full-sized pickup to the parade of companies that try to learn from Toyota’s methods. But to me the most interesting part is the discussion of the company culture and how their consistent drive for improvement (kaizen) is pervasive.

It seems to me that most of the truly great stories of organizational success are not ones of meteoric rise, they are the result of long slow burns that finally pay off. As in the world of Hollywood, it seems to me that most “overnight successes” really have decades long histories of pain, tribulation, and persistence.

Even in the rocket-ship ride of the .com era, where most rockets tumbled into the sea, or exploded on the pad, and yet a few hung on to achieve greatness, I can’t think of a truly successful example that didn’t have a long, painful gestation. The two most oft cited examples of Amazon and Google in fact had their rough childhoods, and painful adolescences, and neither has yet existed long enough to know whether adulthood will suit them well.

We used to refer to ourselves as the world’s best “tail-light chasers”

In my own experience at Microsoft, the best and most venerable products were ones that were definitively not successes in their first iterations. Be it Windows, Excel, Word, Internet Explorer, or SQL Server, virtually all Microsoft products of any note were born of a desire to patiently chase down the competition and do what they did better. The dogged and relentless pursuit of the competition was a key aspect of the company culture, and resulted in version 3 (or 4, or 6…) eventually overtaking the rival. This happened so much that we used to refer to ourselves as the world’s best “tail-light chasers”.

Which gets me back to Toyota. The company recognizes, like few do, that developing and nurturing a culture is a key part of making an organization hum. I talk a lot about mission statements, and how valuable they (and visions) are to organizational success. Toyota sees that almost instinctively. To wit:

Toyota’s overarching principle, Press told me, is “to enrich society through the building of cars and trucks.” This phrase should be cause for skepticism, especially coming from a company so adept at marketing and public relations. I lost count of how many times Toyota executives, during the course of my reporting, repeated it and how often I had to keep from recoiling at its hollow peculiarity. And yet, the catch phrase — to enrich and serve society — was not intended, at least originally, to function as a P.R. motto. Historically the idea has meant offering car customers reliability and mobility while investing profits in new plants, technologies and employees. It has also captured an obsessive obligation to build better cars, which reflects the Toyota belief in kaizen, or continuous improvement. Finally, the phrase carries with it the responsibility to plan for the long term — financially, technically, imaginatively. “The company thinks in years and decades,” Michael Robinet, a vice president at CSM Worldwide, a consulting firm that focuses on the global auto industry, told me. “They don’t think in months or quarters.”

I love their mission statement (“to enrich society through the building of cars and trucks.”), and will discuss that more soon, but what strikes me most is that last part: “they don’t think in months or quarters”. Neither do most successful organizations. They think in terms of what’s right in the long term, and let the current quarter and stock price fall where it may.

“They don’t think in months or quarters”. Neither do most successful organizations.

When Microsoft was most successful (under Bill Gates and Frank Gaudette’s leadership) it did too, offering essentially no “guidance” to the market. It seems they may have strayed lately from this view, when a comment from Steve Ballmer sends the stock reeling, and that’s a shame.

The point here is that Toyota and most other great companies, didn’t get there overnight but over decades, don’t plan for tomorrow but forever, and don’t try to justify their actions but rather their philosophies. This seems to be an anachronism in this go-go, always rushing, instant gratification world. Bummer.

Mulally Has At Least One Better Idea

Alan Mulally
Alan Mulally

I asked the question back in September: Does Alan Mulally (the new Ford CEO) have a better idea? Recently, he has answered the question definitively, and the answer is a resounding yes.

I complained a while back that Ford had just given up, lost creativity, and was basically flailing. In that post (here), I pointed out that Ford had had blatantly stolen the name of the Five Hundred SEL from the Mercedes Benz 500 SEL. This kind of lack of creativity just eats away at companies.

I also suggested that Alan Mulally was a super choice for the CEO. He’s a man who turned around Boeing’s Commercial Airplane Group and could do wonders for Ford. In the post here, I noted how he had hit the ground running. Well just the other day he took another great step forward.

Ford Mustang
Ford Mustang

One of the things that has just gnawed at me about Ford is how they have simply killed off brands for no apparent reason. They stopped making the Mustang for about 20 minutes earlier this century. This is the car that had the biggest start of any car in history, had a great following among the now aging and wealthy baby boomers, and yet some genius wanted to kill it. Well someone got smart, they reintroduced the current retro model, and it’s one of their strongest selling cars. Duh…

They also killed the Taurus. In case you don’t remember, the Taurus was a truly ground breaking car in the 1980s. It was the first car of the “bar of soap” aerodynamic shape trend at the time. In an era where cars were quite angular and edgy (literally), the Taurus shocked the automotive world with its wind-tunnel smooth design. The car was a huge hit, and at one point was the top selling car in the world.

Ford Taurus
Ford Taurus

But… like so many things seem to at Ford, the car atrophied. By the mid-1990s they had let the car wallow, refusing to choose to make the occasional radical redesign car lines require. Few people wanted to own a car with a decade old design. It faded into the oblivion of the rental fleets. Eventually Ford, seemingly mystified by languishing sales, killed the car just a few months ago. No one inside the company knew what to do with it, and no one outside the company appeared to notice.

Well Alan Mulally knew better, and he just announced that they are renaming the Five Hundred to be the Taurus. From what I hear, this was Alan’s idea and he pushed it through. And what a marvelous idea: capitalize on a brand name that was very strong and at the same time right the heinous wrong of the obvious plagiarism of the Five Hundred SEL name.

This appears to be just the start of Alan Mulally’s better ideas. You go Alan!

Blue Light Special on Buzz Words

Kresge Foundation Logo

The Kresge Foundation is a great organization. They seek to strengthen other non-profit organizations by helping them to grow and improve their operations. It’s the philanthropic world’s version of the old Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is all very good stuff.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell with you, the Kresge Foundation grew from the wealth of the Kresge family, the “K” in KMart. Decades of hailing shoppers to blue light specials made the Kresge’s very rich. And the foundation is their way of paying the world back. Good for them.

But a bunch of this breaks down into a mish-mash when you hear their ads on National Public Radio:

The Kresge Foundation helps organizations to catalyze growth, connect with stakeholders, and challenge greater support.

Huh? Catalyze? Stakeholders? Buzzword Bingo!

I have talked about this before, but as soon as you start to over-think your mission statement, it’s broken. I constantly see organizations who have spent way too much time at an “executive offsite” stewing over their corporate vision or mission statement. There are even consultants who make most of their living from traveling the world helping people run these offsites.

As soon as you start to over-think your mission statement, it’s broken.

I’ve been to many of these things. They start out with the best of intentions, and then go down hill from there. The consultant usually whips out the same tired flip charts they’ve used 300 times before, leads the group through the same tired exercises, pushes them toward some conclusion without even understanding the organization, and moves on. The executives go into these meetings thinking they are changing the world, or at least their little corner of it. And they over-think the thing, and leave the meeting with a mushy, overwrought, jumble of buzzwords.

Even worse, they then call a huge corporate meeting and announce the thing like Moses coming down with the word of God. And the employees go insane. They marvel at the fact that the leadership of their organization has time to spend stewing over this stuff. They try to imagine what kind of people it takes to create this crap. They ask themselves how much money, at the exec’s obscene pay rates, it cost the company to come up with this thing. They wonder about the hundreds of better ways that money could have been spent, or the exec’s time could have been used. Then they go back to work.

Visions are best when they are simple, direct, and abundantly clear to everyone.

This might make you think I don’t find value in mission statements or corporate visions. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a huge fan of figuring out what your organization is trying to accomplish, writing that down, and making sure it’s widely known, well communicated, and referred to constantly. But like almost everything else in business, visions are best when they are simple, direct, and abundantly clear to everyone. If they are not, what you get is this drivel, that is often worse than having no vision at all.

The saddest part of the Kresge Foundation example, is that their web site has a super statement of their mission right at the top of the home page:

The Kresge Foundation’s mission is to strengthen nonprofit organizations that advance the well-being of humanity.

Simple, direct, and understood by everyone. And it is definitively NOT pompous or trying too hard. They should be using that instead of trying to catalyze their stakeholders into a catatonic state.