4.7 Crafting Mission and Vision Statements
- Learn about the basics of the mission and vision development process.
- Understand the content of good mission and vision statements.
Communicating and Monitoring Mission and Vision
At this point, you have an understanding of what a mission and vision statement is and how creativity, passion, and stakeholder interests might be accounted for. The actual step-by-step process of developing a mission and vision might start with the mission and vision statements, but you should think of this process more broadly in terms of multiple steps: (1) the process, (2) the content of the mission and vision statements, (3) communicating mission and vision to all relevant stakeholders, and (4) monitoring. As shown in “Process, Content, Application, and Monitoring in Mission and Vision Development,” Information Week contributor Sourabh Hajela breaks out one way you might manage your mission/vision development checklist. Let’s dive in to the development process first.
Mission and vision statements are statements of an organization’s purpose and potential; what you want the organization to become. Both statements should be meaningful to you and your organization. It should be shared with all of the employees in the organization to create a unified direction for everyone to move in.
Process, Content, Application, and Monitoring in Mission and Vision Development
- Let the business drive the mission and vision.
- Involve all stakeholders in its development; otherwise, they won’t consider it theirs.
- Assign responsibility so that it’s clear how each person, including each stakeholder, can contribute.
- Seek expert facilitation to reach a vision supported by all.
- Revise and reiterate; you’ll likely go through multiple iterations before you’re satisfied.
- Start from where you are to get to where you want to go.
- Build in the values of the organization: Every organization has a soul. Tap into yours, and adjust as needed. Mission and vision built on your values will not just hold promise but also deliver on it.
- Build on the core competencies of the organization: A mission and vision are useless if they can’t be put into operation. This requires recognition of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Factor in your style: A mission and vision must reflect the leader’s style. You can’t sustain action that goes against it.
- Make it visual: A picture is worth a thousand words.
- Make it simple to understand: Complex language and disconnected statements have little impact—people can’t implement what they don’t understand.
- Make it achievable: A mission and vision are an organization’s dreams for the future. Unachievable goals discourage people.
- Phase it in: Reach for the sky—in stages.
- Make it actionable: If it’s too abstract, no one knows what to do next.
- Communicate often: Internal communications are the key to success. People need to see the mission and vision, identify with them, and know that leadership is serious about it.
- Create messages that relate to the audience: To adopt a mission and vision, people must see how they can achieve it, and what’s in it for them.
- Create messages that inspire action: It’s not what you say, but how you say it.
- Use it: Beyond printing it, posting it, and preaching it, you also need to practice what is laid out in the mission and vision…“walk the talk”
- Live it: Management must lead by example.
- Be real: It’s better to adjust the mission statement as needed than to not live up to the standards it sets.
- Identify key milestones: While traveling to your destination, acknowledge the milestones along the way.
- Monitor your progress: A strategic audit, combined with key metrics, can be used to measure progress against goals and objectives.
- Use external audit team: An external team brings objectivity, plus a fresh perspective.
Adapted from http://www.informationweek.com/news/management/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=17500069 (retrieved October 29, 2008).
Mission and Vision-Development Process
Mission and vision development are analogous to the “P” (planning) in the P-O-L-C framework. Start with the people. To the greatest extent possible, let those people responsible for executing the mission and vision drive their development. Sometimes this means soliciting their input and guiding them through the development of the actual statements, but ideally, it means teaching them how to craft those statements themselves. Involve as many key stakeholders as possible in its development; otherwise, they won’t consider it theirs. Assign responsibility so that it’s clear how each person, including each stakeholder, can contribute.
The content of the mission and vision statements are analogous to the O (organizing) part of the P-O-L-C framework. Begin by describing the best possible business future for your company, using a target of 5 to 10 years in the future. Your written goals should be dreams, but they should be achievable dreams. Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) suggests that the vision be very bold, or what he likes to call a BHAG—a big, hairy, audacious goal—like the United State’s goal in the 1960s to go to the moon by the end of the decade, or Martin Luther King’s vision for a nonracist America.
Recognizing that the vision statement is derived from aspects of the mission statement, it is helpful to start there. Richard O’ Hallaron and his son, David R. O’ Hallaron, in The Mission Primer: Four Steps to an Effective Mission Statement, suggest that you consider a range of objectives, both financial and nonfinancial (O’Hallaron & O’Hallaron, 2000). Specifically, the O’Hallarons find that the best mission statements have given attention to the following six areas:
- What “want-satisfying” service or commodity do we produce and work constantly to improve?
- How do we increase the wealth or quality of life or society?
- How do we provide opportunities for the productive employment of people?
- How are we creating a high-quality and meaningful work experience for employees?
- How do we live up to the obligation to provide fair and just wages?
- How do we fulfill the obligation to provide a fair and just return on capital?
When writing your statements, use the present tense, speaking as if your business has already become what you are describing. Use descriptive statements describing what the business looks like, feels like, using words that describe all of a person’s senses. Your words will be a clear written motivation for where your business organization is headed. Mission statements, because they cover more ground, tend to be longer than vision statements, but you should aim to write no more than a page. Your words can be as long as you would like them to be, but a shorter vision statement may be easier to remember.
The communications step of the mission and vision statements development process is analogous to the “L” (leading) part of the P-O-L-C framework. Communicate often: Internal communications are the key to success. People need to see the vision, identify with it, and know that leadership is serious about it.
Managers must evaluate both the need and the necessary tactics for persuasively communicating a strategy in four different directions: upward, downward, across, and outward (Hambrick & Cannella, 1989).
Increasingly, firms rely on bottom-up innovation processes that encourage and empower middle-level and division managers to take ownership of mission and vision and propose new strategies to achieve them. Communicating upward means that someone or some group has championed the vision internally and has succeeded in convincing top management of its merits and feasibility.
Communicating downward means enlisting the support of the people who’ll be needed to implement the mission and vision. Too often, managers undertake this task only after a strategy has been set in stone, thereby running the risk of undermining both the strategy and any culture of trust and cooperation that may have existed previously. Starting on the communication process early is the best way to identify and surmount obstacles, and it usually ensures that a management team is working with a common purpose and intensity that will be important when it’s time to implement the strategy.
Communicating Across and Outward
The need to communicate across and outward reflects the fact that realization of a mission and vision will probably require cooperation from other units of the firm (across) and from key external stakeholders, such as material and capital providers, complementors, and customers (outward). Internally, for example, the strategy may call for raw materials or services to be provided by another subsidiary; perhaps it depends on sales leads from other units. The software company Emageon couldn’t get hospitals to adopt the leading-edge visualization software that was produced and sold by one subsidiary until its hardware division started cross-selling the software as well. This internal coordination required a champion from the software side to convince managers on the hardware side of the need and benefits of working together.
It is the successful execution of this step—actually using the mission and vision statements—that eludes most organizations. “Yes, it is inconvenient and expensive to move beyond the easy path” and make decisions that support the mission statement, says Lila Booth, a Philadelphia-area consultant who is on the faculty of the Wharton Small Business Development Center. But ditching mission for expediency “is short-term thinking,” she adds, “which can be costly in the end, costly enough to put a company out of business (Krattenmaker, 2002).” That is not to say that a mission statement is written in stone. Booth cites her own consulting business. It began well before merger mania but has evolved with the times and now is dedicated in significant part to helping merged companies create common cultures. “Today, our original mission statement would be very limiting,” she says.
Even the most enthusiastic proponents acknowledge that mission statements are often viewed cynically by organizations and their constituents. That is usually due to large and obvious gaps between a company’s words and deeds. “Are there companies that have managers who do the opposite of what their missions statements dictate? Of course,” says Geoffrey Abrahams, author of The Mission Statement Book. “Mission statements are tools, and tools can be used or abused or ignored.…Management must lead by example. It’s the only way employees can live up to the company’s mission statement (Abrahams, 1999).” Ultimately, if you are not committed to using the mission statement then you are best advised not to create one.
The monitoring step of the mission and vision statements development process is analogous to the “C” (controlling) part of the P-O-L-C framework. Identify key milestones that are implied or explicit in the mission and vision. Since mission and vision act like a compass for a long trip to a new land, as Information Week’s Hajela suggests, “while traveling to your destination, acknowledge the milestones along the way. With these milestones you can monitor your progress: A strategic audit, combined with key metrics, can be used to measure progress against goals and objectives. To keep the process moving, try using an external audit team. One benefit is that an external team brings objectivity, plus a fresh perspective (Information Week, 2008).” It also helps motivate your team to stay on track.
This section described some of the basic inputs into crafting mission and vision statements. It explored how mission and vision involved initiation, determination of content, communication, application, and then monitoring to be sure if and how the mission and vision were being followed and realized. In many ways, you learned how the development of mission and vision mirrors the P-O-L-C framework itself—from planning to control (monitoring).
- Who should be involved in the mission and vision development process?
- What are some key content areas for mission and vision?
- Why are organizational values important to mission and vision?
- Why is communication important with mission and vision?
- To which stakeholders should the mission and vision be communicated?
- What role does monitoring play in mission and vision?
Abrahams, J. (1999). The Mission Statement Book: 301 Corporate Mission Statements from America’s Top Companies. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Hambrick, D. C., & Cannella, A. A. (1989). Strategy implementation as substance and selling. Academy of Management Executive, 3(4), 278–285.
Information Week, retrieved October 28, 2008, from http://www.informationweek.com/news/management/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=17500069.
Krattenmaker, T. (2002). Writing a Mission Statement That Your Company Is Willing to Live. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
O’Hallaron, R., & O’Hallaron, D. (2000). The Mission Primer: Four Steps to an Effective Mission Statement, Richmond: Mission Incorporated. Their approach is based on Gast’s Laws, a set of principles developed in the 1940s and 1950s by the late business professor Walter Gast. Among other ideas, Gast’s Laws hold that businesses must be dedicated to more than making money if they are to succeed.