Your mission statement is worthless as an employee alignment tool

Where does that potentially inflammatory conclusion come from? Let’s begin by asking some (increasingly) provocative questions. Here are a couple of easy ones.

  • Does your organization have a published mission statement?
  • Does your organization have published organizational values?

If your organization is like most in the life science, biotech, and drug discovery and development sectors, the answer to both questions is, “yes.” So you’re not alone. Most organizations have put a great deal of thought into carefully crafting (sometimes agonizing over) a mission statement and a set of values.

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Now let’s up the ante a little bit.

  • If you picked an employee at random, could he or she recite your mission statement correctly?
  • If you surveyed all your employees, asking them to recite your organizational values, would their answers be consistent?
Most employees can’t repeat your organization’s mission statement, so it is worthless when it comes to aligning their behavior.

If you’re being truthful, and if your organization is like the vast majority in the eClincal sector, your answers to these two questions would probably be “no” and “not very.”

Here is my last, and most provocative, question.

  • If your employees don’t understand your mission statement and values well enough to be able to repeat them, do your mission statement and values actually do anything to get your employees on the same page?

For most firms, and in all probability for your firm, the answer is no—and the implications are obvious. Most statements of mission and values live only on your web site. They don’t live in the hearts and minds of your employees. They don’t tangibly affect your employees’ work-related thoughts, beliefs and behaviors on a day-to-day basis.

I am not arguing that organizations in the life science, biotech, and drug discovery and development sectors shouldn’t have mission statements. I am saying that most organizations have not spent enough time or effort aligning their employees’ basic actions and goals with the organization’s mission and values.

So, what can you do to align your employees’ thoughts, beliefs and behaviors?

The importance of employee alignment

Volkswagen is a company that has serious problems. I believe that some of those problems come from a lack of alignment—from individuals taking actions that were not in the company’s best interest, and which have come close to destroying VW’s reputation.

The VW software scandal is a clear warning; companies must align their employees’ behavior to a common purpose or risk disastrous consequences. 

Ironically, VW recognized the fact that a single individual can cause great damage. They produced a document of shared values entitled “Code of Conduct,” which states in the very first section, General Conduct Requirements:

“Responsibility for the Reputation of the Volkswagen Group

The reputation of the Volkswagen Group is determined in large part by the demeanor, actions, and behavior of each individual employee. Inappropriate behavior by just one employee can cause serious damage to the organization. Each of our employees shall make sure that his or her demeanor in public does not damage the reputation of the Volkswagen Group. The fulfillment of his or her duties must always be directed hereto in all respects.”

And on VW’s (now defunct) web site, the Corporate Culture section included a list of shared values:

“After conducting talks with the representatives of employees of all levels it was possible to identify the most respected values in Volkswagen… 

  • sense of responsibility
  • respect
  • cooperation
  • learning
  • trust
  • strong attitude towards success
  • determination”

What sense of responsibility was felt by the employees who came up with the idea to skirt environmental regulations, or the managers, directors and C-suite executives who approved the implementation of this crazy scheme?

I’ve examined VW’s Code of Conduct and Shared Values. How about their Mission Statement? VW does not have a published “mission statement” per se. The closest public language is a corporate goal:

“The Group’s goal is to offer attractive, safe and environmentally sound vehicles which can compete in an increasingly tough market and set world standards in their respective class.”

It’s clear that VW management, while “talking the talk,” failed to achieve actual alignment between employee actions and the company’s shared values or their group’s goal. The result was disastrous.

While most misalignments aren’t quite so spectacular, they can still cause serious and lasting damage to your reputation and sales. How can you avoid making a similar mistake? Let’s begin by examining the differences between actions, goals and objectives.

Aligning employees’ high-level objectives, intermediate goals and basic actions in the eClincal sector

In the book Obliquity, Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, author John Kay draws a distinction between high-level objectives, intermediate goals and basic actions. To clarify the distinction, he tells a story:

          …the old story of a visitor who encounters three stone masons working on a medieval cathedral, and asks each what he is doing. “I am cutting this stone to shape,” says the first, describing his basic actions. “I am building a great cathedral,” says the second, describing his intermediate goal. “And I am working for the glory of God,” says the third, describing his high-level objective.”

The author states, “High-level objectives are typically loose and unquantifiable, though this does not mean it is not evident whether or not they are being achieved.” 

Kay maintains that “To function, we have to break a high-level objective—such as living well—into goals and actions…” He discusses many talented business leaders who have done just that, including Jack Welch, the head of GE from 1981 to 2001: “The rise in the market capitalization of GE during Welch’s tenure represented the greatest creation of shareholder value ever.”

As Kay explains, “Jack Welch… went on to point out that the injunction “maximize shareholder value” is not a useful guide to…action. ‘That’s not a strategy that helps you know what to do when you come to work every day.'”  In other words, “maximize shareholder value” is a high-level objective, and not useful for helping employees determine what their basic day-to-day actions or intermediate goals should be.

Most mission statements are comprised of high-level objectives, which are useless in aligning employees daily goals or actions.

Most statements of mission and corporate values that I’ve run across in the eClincal sector are comprised of these high-level objectives, such as “improve human health” or “create value for our customers” or, in the case of VW, “…offer environmentally sound vehicles which…set world standards in their respective class.” And this is exactly the problem: they’re so high-level that they can’t be aligned in any meaningful way with employees’ daily goals or actions.

The aligning power of archetypes in the eClincal sector

Archetypes are a useful tool for enabling your employees to connect their own basic actions and intermediate goals with your life science organization’s high-level objectives. And more than that, the proper use of and training in archetypes will give your employees a set of “rules of thumb” by which they can guide their own thoughts, beliefs and actions, and through practical implementation maintain alignment with the organization’s high-level objectives.

As I discussed in Vol 7 No 9, the benefits of archetypes include:

  • Alignment
  • Expression
  • Differentiation
  • Resonance

These occur in the listed order; if you create employee alignment, your expressions will be consistent and “on-message.” This leads to differentiation and resonance in the minds of the audiences. And if you have differentiation and resonance, you’ll have audience engagement and, ultimately, better pricing power.

Of the four main benefits listed above, the first two occur primarily inside the organization, in the minds of your employees; the latter occur primarily outside the organization, in the minds of your external audiences.

The first two main benefits of using archetypes, Alignment and Clear, Consistent Expression, occur within your life science organization.

I have written at length about the different types of archetypes , their advantages and how to select an archetype for your life science organization. Once you’ve chosen an archetype, how do you reap the first (and most important) of these benefits: alignment? How do you drive consistent alignment throughout your life science, drug development or biotech organization?

Driving consistent alignment and expression in your life science, drug development or biotech organization.

Alignment must be encouraged and nurtured, because it won’t happen naturally by itself. When employees understand and accept your archetype (and all it implies), , you’ll see changes in their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. We can create this alignment through training and reinforcement.

Anyone involved in training and teaching will be familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy (as revised by Anderson, Krathwohl, et al. in 2001) This taxonomy gives us a framework for creating alignment; it is a hierarchical list of possible cognitive and affective learning outcomes. See tables 1 and 2.

The Major Categories in Bloom’s Taxonomy
Lower order thinking skills






Higher order thinking skills


Table 1. Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive and affective learning outcomes is organized from the easiest and simplest outcomes (lower order thinking skills) to the most difficult (higher order thinking skills).

At the start of this white paper, I noted that one measure of the ineffectiveness of the typical corporate mission statement in the life sciences is that no employee remembers it. Remembering is the simplest outcome in Bloom’s Taxonomy; if no one remembers your mission statement correctly, then they certainly won’t be able to advance to any of the other aspects of the taxonomy, including applying, evaluating and creating.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a mechanism to guide your employees? Archetypes are one such mechanism. 

This is important because of a simple fact: Each and every employee in your life science organization has a chance to affect how your organization expresses its values and fulfills its mission. Some of these expressions will be internal; for example, if your values include “directness and honesty” then this can be expressed (or not) in daily interactions such as how a meeting is run, or how internal emails are written. Of course, I doubt that most employees preparing a meeting or writing an email sit back and think about your corporate mission and values—those concepts are too high-level.

And similarly, some of these expressions will be external. For example, values such as “directness” and “honesty” should show up in the appearance and clarity of invoices—unlike most cell phone bills (admittedly one of my pet peeves). I doubt the cell phone employees responsible for laying out the cell phone bill were considering their corporations values when they did so.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a mechanism to guide your employees—to allow them to link your life science organization’s high-level objectives with their intermediate goals and their basic actions?

If you look at Table 2, you’ll see the kinds of cognitive processes (in the third column) that employees will use as they make these links. Archetypes are one tool that can guide employees as they use these cognitive processes—providing context to help them make decisions.


Category Examples and key words (verbs) Cognitive Process involved in this category
Remember: Recall or retrieve previous learned information. Examples: Recite the organizational values. Recall the three most important attributes of the chosen archetype.

Key Words: defines, describes, identifies, knows, labels, lists, matches, names, outlines, recalls, recognizes, reproduces, selects, states

Recognizing (identifying)

Recalling (retrieving)

Understand: Comprehending the meaning, translation, interpolation, and interpretation of instructions and problems. State a problem in one’s own words. Examples: Explain in one’s own words the desired tone of voice for all employees to use when communicating internally or externally. Translate (paraphrase) the “About us” section of your web site into a paragraph of a press release.

Key Words: comprehends, converts, defends, distinguishes, estimates, explains, extends, generalizes, gives an example, infers, interprets, paraphrases, predicts, rewrites, summarizes, translates

Interpreting (clarifying, paraphrasing, representing, translating)

Exemplifying (illustrating, instantiating)

Classifying (categorizing, subsuming)

Summarizing (abstracting, generalizing)

Inferring (concluding, extrapolating, interpolating, predicting)

Comparing (contrasting, mapping, matching)

Explaining (constructing models)

Apply: Use a concept in a new situation or unprompted use of an abstraction. Applies what was learned in the classroom into novel situations in the work place Examples: Use a list of standards for the use of a logo to determine whether a new trade-show booth design meets the standards or not.

Key Words: applies, changes, computes, constructs, demonstrates, discovers, manipulates, modifies, operates, predicts, prepares, produces, relates, shows, solves, uses

Executing (carrying out)

Implementing (using)

Analyze: Separates material or concepts into component parts so that its organizational structure may be understood. Distinguishes between facts and inferences. Examples: Distinguish between the proper and improper tones of voice when writing a whitepaper.

Key Words: analyzes, breaks down, compares, contrasts, diagrams, deconstructs, differentiates, discriminates, distinguishes, identifies, illustrates, infers, outlines, relates, selects, separates

Differentiating (discriminating, distinguishing, focusing, selecting)

Organizing (finding coherence, integrating, outlining, parsing, structuring)

Attributing (deconstructing)

Evaluate: Make judgments about the value of ideas or materials. Examples: Judge which paragraph out of three alternatives would be most effective for an email.

Key Words: appraises, compares, concludes, contrasts, criticizes, critiques, defends, describes, discriminates, evaluates, explains, interprets, justifies, relates, summarizes, supports

Checking (coordinating, detecting, monitoring, testing)

Critiquing (judging)

Create: Builds a structure or pattern from diverse elements. Put parts together to form a whole, with emphasis on creating a new meaning or structure. Examples: Write a company brochure in the voice of a given archetype. Explain how the attributes of a chosen archetype relate to that individual’s job function.

Key Words: categorizes, combines, compiles, composes, creates, devises, designs, explains, generates, modifies, organizes, plans, rearranges, reconstructs, relates, reorganizes, revises, rewrites, summarizes, tells, writes

Generating (hypothesizing)

Planning (designing)

Producing (construct)

Table 2. An expanded view of Bloom’s taxonomy. Examples, keywords and cognitive process are listed here. In an ideal world, your entire life science employee base will be trained on how to Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate and Create expressions of your brand that are aligned with your mission and your values, whether those expressions are physical and public-facing (such as a trade show booth or a sales PowerPoint presentation) or conceptual and internal-facing (such as running a meeting or sending out a company wide email).

Engaging and aligning employees in eClincal organizations

To be engaged and aligned, employees need answers to three basic questions:

  • Why should I care?
  • What should I do?
  • How do I do it?

In his book Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink cites many scientific studies that reveal that money is not what motivates employees. In fact, once the basic needs for financial security are satisfied, paying people additional money doesn’t produce more motivation or higher performance. Pink goes on to show that motivation is developed by giving employees the opportunity and the training to develop three crucial factors: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Bloom’s Taxonomy The questions we must answer for employees What we must provide employees through training Dan Pinks three factors
Remember Why should I care? Emotional engagement and personal relevance Purpose
Apply What should I do? Guidance in “what to do” and “where it applies” Mastery
Evaluate How do I do it? Responsibility (freedom and limits on “what to do.”) Autonomy

Table 3. This table brings together the categories of Bloom’s Taxonomy, the major questions we must answer for employees, the things we must provide to employees and the three categories that drive employee motivation.

Let’s examine these three questions, one at a time.

Why should I care? How do we encourage our eClincal employees to discover a common purpose?

To develop a sense of common purpose, you have to show your employees the relevance of the subject matter at hand; otherwise they won’t give a damn. This means you must make it personally relevant and emotionally engaging. If it’s not personally relevant, it will sound just like the rest of the corporate “blather” that they’ve learned to ignore. If it’s not emotionally engaging, you won’t get participation. This is a step that most corporate training ignores, but if you can’t show employees why they should care, the following two questions won’t matter.

I’ll use a gardening analogy here: If the garden attendants have no stake in the garden, they won’t care whether weeds overtake the garden. But if they understand that they’ll be depending upon the food from the garden to sustain themselves, the subject will be both personally relevant and emotionally engaging.

We’ll dive deeper into this in the next issue, when I outline a training program designed to help you align your life science employees’ behavior with the particular archetype you’ve chosen. I’ll point out how you can use the VW example (noted above) as a teaching case. It’s not difficult for most employees to imagine a similar situation within your own life science organization, which brings to light the importance of aligning all employees’ behavior with the best interests of the organization.

Why should I care?
What should I do?
How do I do it?  

Archetypes can help you answer these crucial questions from employees.

What should I do? How do we allow eClincal employees to develop mastery?

Employees have to understand where they should apply what they’ve learned. This involves clear guidance: what are we applying and where should it be applied. To continue my gardening analogy: when teaching people to weed a garden, we have to teach them “what to do,” that is, how to pull the entire weed out of the ground, lest it regrow. We also have to teach them “where it applies,” that is, the difference between a weed and a tomato plant.

In the next issue, I’ll show how you can get life science employees to rewrite their own job descriptions from the viewpoint of your organization’s archetype. This helps employees understand that they do embody the attributes of your archetype.

How do I do it? How do we allow life science employees to develop autonomy?

Employees have to understand how to apply what they’ve learned. This involves skills of evaluation and creativity, and this autonomy involves both freedom and limits. When teaching people to care for a garden, we have to give them the freedom to care for the garden in their own way (e.g., weeding in the morning vs. weeding in the evening), because we can’t stand and watch them every moment (otherwise we might as well do everything ourselves).

In the next issue, I’ll discuss the aligning question: “What would the (insert the name of your archetype here) do?” I’ve also talked about this in Vol 6 no 6.  This question helps life science employees internalize the particular nuances of your organization’s archetype.

Using archetypes in training employees in the life science, biotech, and drug discovery and development sectors.

Archetypes are a powerful tool to help life science employees understand how to align their basic actions and their intermediate goals with the organization’s high-level objectives. Archetypes can enable employees to develop autonomy, mastery and purpose in guiding expressions of an organization’s mission and values.

How does this happen? In my next whitepaper, I’ll outline a training program that you can use to convert your archetype from a description of a character written on a piece of paper (hmm, does that sound like most mission statements?) to a living, breathing set of shared thoughts, beliefs and behaviors among your employees.

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Learn more about the use of archetypes in life science, biotech and drug development marketing and sales.

To learn more about archetypes, here are some links to additional articles:

10 situations in which archetypes give you a distinct sales advantage, Vol. 7, No. 10

Bringing archetypes to life to drive sales in life science marketing, Vol. 7, No. 9

Aligning archetypes with products, services, culture or communications to drive sales in life science or biotech marketing, Vol. 7, No. 8

The relationship between your position and your archetype in driving engagement and sales in life science marketing, Vol. 7, No. 7

Putting Your Archetype Into Action in Life Science Marketing, Vol. 6, No. 6

Choosing an archetype that will differentiate your life science organization — a ten-step process, Vol. 6, No. 5

Archetypes in action in life science marketing, Vol. 6, No. 4

Families of archetypes and their use in life science marketing, Vol. 6, No. 3

Gaining differentiation (and pricing power) through the use of archetypes in life science marketing, Vol. 6, No. 2