Last week, I announced the results of our community-wide efforts to review the Darden School’s mission statement. Darden is a mission-driven school. The mission statement guides our actions and expresses the distinction and strength of our culture and our commitment to graduate business education and executive development. As Dean of Darden, I use our mission statement virtually every day in tasks such as aligning our community, setting strategy, and communicating what we value. The mission statement is important; it is our North Star, offering direction for us all.

In April 2012, I assembled a Review Team to lead a review of the statement because it is important to periodically examine the statement, which has been in effect since 2008. I told the team that a successful end result would be a mission statement that reflects the best thinking of stakeholders from across the enterprise and that will inspire each of us as we pursue our daily activities.

The Review Team was formed with members representing many areas within Darden. The team solicited extensive feedback from internal and external constituents, including faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, corporate partners and students from all of our degree programs. Based on the input, the team proposed a new statement, which it presented in numerous sessions with the community. The team listened well to suggestions, revised, and returned with a recommendation. Under our school governance, the Faculty approved the final statement.

Here’s our new mission statement:

The Darden School improves the world by developing and inspiring responsible leaders and by advancing knowledge.

Critical to our success are:

  • Transformational learning experiences that develop discerning judgment and the ability to act decisively;
  • A supportive and diverse community that encourages its members to collaborate and excel;
  • Enduring relationships that help individuals and organizations thrive.

I like the attributes of the new statement and highlight four phrases that sprang up in the recent review:

“The Darden School improves the world” may sound like a lofty aspiration to some, but we see this statement in action each day. Business brings people together to create value.

Responsible leaders are determined to make business a force for good in the world.

— Emphasizing that “advancing knowledge” is integral to our mission reflects the importance Darden has placed on research and thought leadership in recent years. Darden’s faculty and staff advance knowledge in myriad ways: by developing case studies, innovating academic programs, writing journal articles and books, speaking at conferences and engaging with the media, to name a few.

— Recognizing our “supportive and diverse community that encourages its members to collaborate and excel” is critical. We are a team. Our victories are each other’s victories.

Why spend much energy on a mission statement?

I occasionally meet people who roll their eyes when someone (me) starts talking about mission, vision, and values. “It’s vaporware, motherhood-and-apple-pie,” they say. Perhaps those folks were burned by other communities that talked big and delivered little. In any event, it is true that the proof of a mission statement is in its observance. At Darden, we aim to deliver what we say we’ll deliver—doing so is a norm expressed in another important statement, also found on our intranet: “We act with integrity; we do what we say.” By putting in writing what we believe and expect, we hold ourselves to a high standard. Living up to such a standard is the core of being a community of integrity.

Each year in January, I write to the Darden Community to remind us to: manage, study, lead, and work with integrity because

  1. We want to create a sustainable legacy for Darden.  To incorporate ethics into our workplace mindset is to think about the kind of world that we would like to live in, and that succeeding generations will inherit.
  2. Ethical behavior builds trust and dividends of trust are valuable.  The foremost dividend is an unimpeachable reputation. Equally important, ethics and trust build strong teams and strong leadership.  Stronger teams and leaders result in more agile and creative responses to problems.  Ethical behavior contributes to the strength of teams and leadership by aligning employees around shared values, and building confidence and loyalty.
  3. The Darden mission statement calls us. We share expectations that create a community of trust.  The recent Mission Statement review reaffirms our intentions: to develop and inspire “responsible leaders” and to “advance knowledge.” We can’t advance our mission if we don’t have a community of trust.
  4. Darden can’t afford the costs of doing otherwise. We cannot afford to lose one shred of our reputation; we cannot afford to lose one talented member of our community, applicant, or corporate partner over an ethical lapse; and we cannot afford to lose our self-confidence and self-respect.

These and other reasons should motivate all of us to walk the talk.

Here is what I ask of you in 2013.  First, encourage others around you to do what’s right. We are not an “anything goes” community.  We have mutual expectations for exemplary behavior. No number of messages from the Dean can top the impact of peer expectations.  A community is only as strong as its most vulnerable link.  Help those who may be headed in the wrong direction.  Speak up for our values.

Second, if you see something, say something.  The UVA Honor System provides representatives with whom students and professors can share their concerns on a confidential basis.  Similarly, faculty and staff members can share concerns with senior leaders, me, and/or Barbara Deily, Chief Audit Executive of the University (434-924-4110, The mark of a good organization is not that it never has ethical lapses, but rather what it does about them. At Darden we must get the facts and take appropriate action as fast as possible.

Finally, at a personal level, make a commitment to go the extra mile for what’s right.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “you must be the change you want to see in the world.” The change that Darden aspires to see is expressed in our mission statement. If we want to live in a community of trust and integrity, we must live that vision.