Mission Improbable

By E.D. Wivens, October 2007

"I've seen the writing on the wall", said the kit.

I opened an eye and looked at him. "I'm very pleased for you", I said.

"No I mean there are humans writing on the wall."

This is not an unusual occurrence around here, especially where our boundary wall runs beside the main road, so I just stretched out in the patch of sunlight where I lay, and waited to see if there was more information to follow. There was.

"They're putting writing over the big desk in the reception area."

Unmoved by this revelation I rolled over to warm the other flank and closed my eye in the process, indicating that I wished to resume my mid-morning rest.

The kit, distracted for a moment by a passing pigeon, ignored this signal and continued. "One of the workman has brought a meat pie with his sandwiches."

This shed a new light on the proceedings so I stood up and looked at the kit. "Well we'd better go and see what they are up to then."

The scene in reception was very much as the kit had described it. Two workmen were sticking bronze letters to the white marble wall above the reception desk, and a third was following behind with a polishing cloth. In light of his recent experiences with ladders, the Health and Safety guy had decided to limit his involvement to cordoning off the area with red and white tape. He had also insisted that Jane wore a hardhat as she sat at the switchboard, and Jane was giving him one of her looks as we arrived. By the time we had concealed ourselves in the foliage surrounding the fountain he was visibly wilting. This vantage point provided a clear view of the proceedings from a safe distance, but still remained close enough to pounce on any stray meat pies.

The kit scanned the letters and looked puzzled. "Are all those things words?" he asked.

"Mostly", I replied examining the text. "I'm not too sure about 'synergisticity' though."

"What does it mean?"

"It means", I said spotting the Boss lurking in a corner and looking pleased with himself, that the Board has decided the company should have a mission statement."

"Right", said the kit.

The workmen had clearly finished putting up the letters and the Boss hustled them away before they could open their lunchboxes, which was rather disappointing. I waited for the kit's supplementary question.

"What's a mission statement?"

"A mission sentence is a short, snappy paragraph which sums up the company's aims, aspirations and outlook on life. It's intended to reassure customers and inspire their employees. Some captains of industry hire expensive consultants to create them, but I suspect that our lot stopped steering the company onto the rocks for a moment, and wrote this one themselves."

"Right", said the kit reading the statement again. "And that's what this company does, is it?"

"No. It's what the Board believes this company does. If they were being accurate they would have put something like: 'The purpose of our business is to stay in business and make money. To do so we will use any method that comes to hand, no matter how dubious. We are an ethical company and do not hire hit men to take out our competitors, but only on grounds of cost.'"

Sadly things were going to be a total loss on the meat pie front, so I decided to reclaim my sunny spot on the canteen roof. On the way back the kit was obviously deep in thought, which suggested that I would get not my late-morning snooze in either.

"So what's made them get a mission statement now?"

Clearly my-late morning snooze was indeed a write-off, and I was obviously going to have to explain quickly if I was going to salvage my pre-dinner nap.

"It's a management thing. The Board are always trying to keep up with the latest management ideas. Unfortunately they normally get these ideas from reading Sunday papers, or talking to other members of their club, so by the time they catch on, most firms have already dropped the idea and moved on."

"Do they work then?"

"I doubt that any of them have ever done a real day's work in their lives."

The kit pondered this for a moment.

"I meant the ideas."

"Not noticeably. The majority of these ideas originate in the United States, but acquire a British twist on their way across the Atlantic. This twist normally invalidates whatever slight advantage they might have had in the first place. That's how we get things like slow fast-food and dress-down Wednesday."

"So this happens a lot then?" asked the kit.

"Oh yes the Board's last big idea was sending the entire Sales Department off on an activity weekend to 'bond'. Unfortunately the Boss asked Human Resources to organise it, and Ms Savage used it as an opportunity to weed out their department. Still the survivors thought it was a great success, even though one or two still get a bit twitchy whenever people mention white water or freefalling. Before that the Board tried sending the entire Accounts Department to see a psychiatrist."

"Did that work? I mean most of them still seem depressed."

I shook my head. "No Dr Psyche just told the Boss he'd sent the wrong people."

"Right", said the kit transferring his attention to a passing scrap of paper.

I though of taking my belated nap, but the moment seemed to have passed for the sound of pans clanking on the stove below us drew my attention to other matters.

"Pity about that meat pie", I said feeling hungry.

"Well", said the kit getting to his feet and releasing a small origami swan, "I suggest that, inspired by this morning's events, we proactively harness our spontaneity and go and assist the Catering Department to eliminate any surplus food they have lying around."

"Now that's what I call a mission statement", I said.

The author and owner of this work is E.D. Wivens. See http://www.katzphur.co.uk/ for more details.
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