We can apparently hold seven +/- two things in our head at one time -- so, for practical purposes, five things. However, that's just keeping them in our head, not using them to, for example, make decisions. If you are trying to make calculations with things that you are holding in your head, the number goes down to, I suspect, one (possibly two, at a stretch).
Now consider the typical mission statement, a long, meandering list of choices cobbled together by a committee that wants to cover all bases and offend no one. Who actually knows the mission statement of the business they work in? Maybe the people at Google (no, it's not "don't be evil"): "To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful." A Zappos employee would probably say "the very best customer experience" although the official position is that Zappos is defined by its ten core values.
The goal of a company, however, is higher and more potent than the mission statement, and often, unfortunately, unspoken. It says "here's what this company is about." If you don't specify your raison d'être, it defaults to "profit."
It's very important to know your goal because it defines your decisions. The goal is the final argument for any discussion. Everyone has heard it: someone is trying to push for a higher purpose and a "pragmatist" will invoke the bottom line and say "after all, we're in business to make money." If no one can argue against that, then you've discovered the business' goal. I would wager that at Zappos, for example, a bunch of people in such a meeting would vociferously declare that the company is in business to provide exceptional customer experience.
Unless the company goal is very clear from the beginning, the "profit" goal will automatically take over, because it's infused into Western culture. Even if you're able to shoehorn a second goal in there, one will ultimately dominate, so I advise:
- Only have one goal. It's hard enough as it is to be clear.
- Don't make your goal "to make money." Choose something higher; that will be a much better motivator. Yes, yes, we all know that for the company to survive we need to make as much as we spend. But that isn't a reason for existence. Saying that a company's goal is to make money is like saying a human's goal is to eat food (which is not working out so well here in the USA).
- Find a goal you can really believe in and be passionate about. It needs to be strong enough to withstand the "profit" argument.
A goal of "profit" justifies all kinds of heinous behavior. Everyone has seen this in action; start taking away the positive aspects of working in a place because those things cost money and the best people start leaving. Your cubicles get more cramped, but the bottom line is served. The quality of the products gets worse and the customers get unhappy, but this quarter looks better. And you can't argue against any of these measures because "we're in business to make money."
I've talked about some alternative goals in this blog; for example, Gore's goal is innovation and Zappos' is customer experience. Both of these have produced, as a side effect, exceptional profits. They've also created environments that are beneficial to employees, but I don't know of any company that has made "an amazing place to work" its explicit goal. Think of the effect that would have on attracting the best people, minimizing employee turnover, creating a vibrant, creative work environment, stimulating innovation, evolving the organization ... and, as a side effect, producing terrific profits.