How to avoid screwing up Vision & Mission (Part IV)

In the final part of this four-part mini-series, we continue on from Strategies & Goals, Tactics, Vision & Mission and now look at a simple recipe to put everything together. Finally, we round off with how to avoid common pitfalls when defining a Vision and Mission.

First an appeal: Please do your best not to get it wrong. The world doesn’t need any more bad visions or missions. Better not to have any at all than do it in a half-hearted way.

Putting it all together

Ok, soap-box removed, let’s look at how to put everything we’ve covered together.

Putting it all together in a simple recipe

Here’s how everything covered in this mini-series hangs together:

1. Figure out your Mission – Why do you exist?

2. Use your Mission to imagine your Vision – Where are you heading?

3. Use the Vision and Mission to set out specific short, medium and long-term Goals – What are you aiming to achieve?

4. Define Strategies to achieve the goals (and make them cross-functional) – How will you do it?

5. Employ your best Tactics from across the organisation and use these to make the Strategies actionable across the organisation and successful (don’t overlook this one, many do!) – What tools will you use to get there?

Common ways to screw up a Vision

Empty and meaningless visions are everywhere. There are four most popular ways to go wrong:

The vision is only internally focused – it speaks only about the way the business does things, not its effects on others – e.g. “Our vision is to be the best in the market / most profitable / be the most attractive employer in town”

The vision is a goal in disguise and too specific – e.g. “Our vision is to increase customer-retention by 36% in 3 years” (this is also internally focused, how does customer retention benefit the customers?)

The vision is vague and isn’t actionable – it doesn’t help people on the ground do their jobs – e.g. one organisation* I worked with who had: “Our vision is to become a digital, customer-focused, centre of excellence”.

Two or all three of the above!

*It was good that they had a vision (many don’t) but in effect this is really saying “We want to be great, great, great” – who wouldn’t want/claim to be all of these things in today’s world? – and it isn’t helpful to someone in a call centre: “Am I being more digital if I don’t take a paper note while the system is down?” and risks driving the wrong behaviour.

Getting the vision right is hard. There’s no magic formula. It requires lots to exploration and is best done by involving people throughout the organisation – with rounds of testing and evaluation. Trying to create it top-down by executive committee is never a good idea, it needs to be founded in a deep understanding of what the organisation does (hint: involve a lot of good people on the ground).

Common ways to screw up a Mission

The top ways to get a mission wrong are:

The mission is self-serving or otherwise disconnected to external outcomes that improve customer’s lives – e.g. “Our mission is to destroy the competition”

Nobody really means it – i.e. You have a noble purpose but people aren’t willing to back it with real action and so it becomes empty propaganda

The mission is too vague** – whose lives are you trying to benefit?, in what ways?, does this help people throughout the organisation make decisions and choose actions?

**The same organisation that had the vague vision above actually had a pretty good and useful mission. If you only get one of them right, the mission is the more important one.

Sometimes people say: “Yes, yes, yes – but the real purpose of our organisation is to make money. That’s it.”. I’ve found that a purpose making money for bosses or shareholders (or even bonuses for some) isn’t highly motivating for most people – they need something more. So to use this is to risk mediocrity and not attract the best people, which undermines the stated purpose.

As Daniel Pink points out in Drive: once basic needs are satisfied, people are motivated principally by Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. A strong clear mission can provide a strong purpose for everyone, coupled with delegated authority (autonomy) plus both freedom and support to improve work (mastery) is an excellent recipe for a highly motivated workforce.

Get the mission wrong and you can create a cynical morale-destroying exercise that sucks the life out of the organisation and breeds contempt for the bosses from the workers. No-one wants that.

If you want a good starting point for a vision or mission (or both), assemble a hand-picked team of key people from all levels in your organisation and put them in a room with your top 5 customers (nobody understands what you do like your best customers). This will give you the best chance of a useful starting point that you can evolve and later approve at executive level.

Good luck establishing a clear mission and vision in your organisation and using them to set focused goals, pick effective strategies and employ your best tactics!

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Posted in Collaboration, Decision-Making, Leadership, Strategy, Transparency.

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