When you get to my age, and you’ve done a few things in business that have worked out, you can get used to people agreeing with you. And I’m not here to knock that, as it can be a very pleasant experience. But even so, I still can get eye rolls when I start talking about the importance of mission and values.
“Mission and values?” I can practically see people thinking to themselves, “They’re just corporate-speak. They’re the plaque on the lobby wall. They’re fancy words to make the bigwigs feel better about themselves.”
No, no, no, I always want to shout back. Mission and values are real. They matter.
And as of this week, I have new proof to make that case again.
Look, I can assure you that a clear mission and explicit values were central to what made GE the success it once was. Everyone knew where the company was going and understood the behaviors required to get it there – like candor, boundarylessness, and hatred of bureaucracy. But GE also had an army of great people, and hundreds, if not thousands, of great products and services.
Eight years ago, however, I decided to start an online MBA program from scratch. In the beginning, there were less than ten of us in the room and not a single product or service except what existed in our imaginations.
But we had a clear and powerful mission – to be the most relevant MBA in the world, where students are treated as customers, not cogs in the machine. Our mantra was, “Learn it Monday, practice it at work Tuesday, and discuss it with your class on Friday.” Simply put, our goal was to transform working professionals into leaders, with immediately actionable ideas and practices, and have each and every student love the process of getting there.
We also had a rigorous set of values – values that most universities would consider insane. Obsession with student satisfaction, even if it meant conducting near-constant surveys, and booting an under-performing professor mid-semester. Nonstop innovation and improvement, even if it meant rewriting parts of our curriculum every semester.
But formulating a mission and set of values was not enough. We made it a priority to live them every day, talking about them in every meeting, and holding each other accountable to them. Early on, for instance, our faculty worked together to create a charter to lay out how each professor could and would be mission and values-driven. I think that’s pretty rare.
As JWMI grew from a few ideas jotted on a yellow pad to the MBA program it is today, 2,000 students strong, mission and values weren’t just our North Star, they were our South, East, and West stars too.
And this week, the jury came back on that way of viewing the universe.
Poets & Quants, a leading evaluator of MBA programs, announced its 2019 rankings. JWMI came in #1 in four categories, including the ability for students to immediately apply their learnings, the quality of professors, the responsiveness of professors and the quality of the online learning experience. We came in second in flexibility and ranked in the top ten in career outcomes and alumni perceptions.
Now, JWMI has also recently been ranked a top online MBA program by Princeton Review and CEO Magazine, but this recent announcement by Poets & Quants has been particularly meaningful to me because their survey questions – and the responses they garnered – showed how closely our performance matched, you guessed it, our mission and values.
So, this is all a long way of saying one thing, I guess. You may want to blow off mission and values as puffery or jargon, but they are neither. They’re the freshet of success, whether you’re running a 300,000 person corporation, managing a 100-person team, or, like us, launching a start-up with big dreams.
Sure, you can try to make things happen without them, and you may even see some good results to start. But if you want to win, don’t roll your eyes. Open them. Mission and values change the game.