Blue Light Special on Buzz Words

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.

out 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.