The Mission Is Clear Or Is It?

I was watching the news the other evening and they were running a story featuring the new supreme commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. In the course of his challenge to the troops he said, “We are in this to win, that is our clear objective.” In other words, our mission is clear, we are here to win.

However it has been my experience that when it comes to mission, things are often not so clear. What one organization calls mission another calls vision and still another uses terms like purpose and objectives. Is it any wonder then, that our carefully crafted mission and vision statements have little impact on those who are charged with the responsibility of carrying it out?

What the general calls “objective” is really the Mission of the NATO forces. One might word it this way, “The mission of the NATO forces in Afghanistan is to win the war against the Taliban”, or “we are in this to win”.

If one accepts this as the mission, the next logical question is what will victory look like? Or, how will we know when we have achieved victory?

At one time the simple answer would have been when the enemy surrenders and has signed a peace treaty. Unfortunately, today things are much more complicated. Both the nature of the enemy and the context of the war make such a neat conclusion impossible. Consequently we have to take the time to clearly articulate what that victory will look like for both the combatants and those whose land we are defending. We have to, as it were, paint a clear picture of the preferred future. In this case what life in Afghanistan will be like when the Taliban are defeated.

We must provide a vision of what the world will look like when we have accomplished the mission. Failure to do so results in confusion because those engaged in carrying out the mission are left to define victory for themselves.

What is true for the troops is equally true for the employees of an organization. They too need to not only understand the mission, they need a clear understanding of what that preferred future will look like as they go about accomplishing that mission. Without this clear picture, they like the soldiers, are left to define it for themselves. The fallout that comes with this kind of confused vision affects an organization at all levels. Line employees often fail to see what part they play in the bigger picture resulting in indifference and carelessness. Midlevel managers find themselves at odds with each other because their lack of clarity around organizational vision has them moving in opposing directions. Executive teams become combatants instead of team players as each interprets what success will look like for their piece of the organization. In the end confusion reigns and the bottom line suffers.

So what is the answer?

Start by recognizing that “Mission” and “Vision” really do matter. These are not nice catch phrases to put on your company’s annual report, rather they really do have the potential to affect the bottom line. I recently met with a client who was trying to explain to me what his company did. When I asked him to show me a copy of his mission and vision statement, he gave me 3 different pieces of literature, none of which clearly stated what they did. Little wonder they were having trouble adjusting to the market shift taking place in their industry.

Decide what it is you do and then state it in a simple sentence. Jim Collins in his best selling book, “ Good to Great”, discovered that the companies who consistently finished in the top earnings understood the one thing they did well and made sure they continued to do that one thing. He called this the “Hedge Hog” principle.

Once you have your mission clearly stated you have the foundation for your vision. This is where you get to describe what victory looks like, or that preferred future. It doesn’t have to be a single sentence nor a slogan. Instead consider a series of statements that embrace what you see the company or organization looking like as it fulfills its mission. I would even go so far as to suggest to clients that they use the phrase, “I envision our company doing such and such,” when I’m helping write their vision statement. In the end, you might have five or six of these statements, that should be accomplishable.

Now you have the basis for a strategic plan as you ask the question, “What specific things do we need to do to make this picture of the preferred future a reality?” A plan that will insure you are accomplishing your mission.

If you sense your company or organization is floundering in this sea of directional confusion here are some questions you should be asking:

* What does your organization/company exist to do? In other words what is
your mission? (Collins in “Good to Great”, called this the Hedge Hog Principle)

* Can I state my mission in a single sentence?

* Could I reduce this mission too two or three words, something you could fit on
a t-shirt?

* What will the future look like as I go about doing this mission?

* Is my description of what accomplishing this mission would look like a clear
and compelling picture of the future?

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