110th Edition – March 14, 2021
Were you ever in the military, and if you were, did you volunteer for a suicide mission?The question asked by a newspaper after Charles Rossotti accepted the nomination to become the IRS Commissioner in 1997
The Mission of Creating a Mission Statement
In 1993, I was pulled away from my regular work duties to work on a 7-person team to help turnaround one of my employer’s ailing companies. One of the top consulting leaders in BPR (business process reengineering) facilitated this 5-month journey.
One of the many projects we worked on was redoing that division’s mission statement. I was skeptical from day one. While I knew very little about the professional consulting world, my younger self doubted the snake oil we were being sold. I also feared that the mission statement would become nothing more than a shallow academic exercise.
We finished the mission statement in about 2 weeks. The final product was pedestrian at best. And it remained untouched for more than a decade. Did it change minds and hearts? No. But it could have – we just didn’t approach it the right way.
Would a New Mission Statement Work at the IRS?
Throughout the 1990s, American taxpayers and Congress were fed up with the IRS who were bullies to their customers. Employee and taxpayer dissatisfaction levels were at all-time lows. Enough was enough.
Charles Rossotti ran a successful corporation for years before he became the first business person to ever run the IRS starting in 1997. His job was to change the agency with a comprehensive plan to modernize the IRS, but not with just technology.
He quickly formulated a one-page business plan and started figuring out how to reorganize the ailing organization. But something else was missing.
The Path to Changing Minds and Hearts
“In my years at AMS, I had observed many organizations, big and small, embark on developing a new mission statement. Books and articles have been written about the subject. The only common conclusion is that hazards abound. The process can become endless with committees and consultants.” – Charles Rossotti, Many Unhappy Returns, pg. 108.
I thought Rossotti’s process for crafting a new mission statement was brilliant. He picked one executive to solicit views on a new statement from a broad group of employees up and down the organization.
She would then propose a shortlist of mission statements to Rossotti and his leadership team. The leadership team spent one meeting considering the ideas. Rosetti made the final decision.
The New IRS Mission Statement
Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and by applying the tax law with integrity and fairness for all.
The 27 words above have stood the test of time – no commissioner has embarked to change the mission statement since Rosetti’s years as the head person at the IRS.
According to Rosetti, employees and offices posted the new mission statement on walls, desks, and computer screens within days.
Can a Mission Statement Save Lives?
For years, an employee who designed tax forms for the IRS tried to get photos of missing persons printed on blank pages of tax booklets. His idea was continually shot down because upper management stated this was not part of the IRS mission even though other agencies were posting photos of missing children.
After the new 1999 mission statement was created, Michael Gallagher’s idea became a reality. More than 750 million images of missing children had been printed on IRS documents by the time the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children presented Gallagher an award. The best part of the ceremony was that some of the missing kids who had been found attended the event to thank him.
The story of Charles Rossotti turning around the IRS is fascinating. If you want to learn more, you can read his book, Many Unhappy Returns. I will be interviewing him in April for the CFO Bookshelf podcast.
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