Mission Statement: A series of words and phrases, composed of everyone’s input, word-smithed in such a way that gives website viewers the impression that the organization is smart, successful, and caring.
Vision Statement: A series of words and phrases, composed of everyone’s input, word-smithed in such a way that gives website viewers the impression that the organization is smart, successful, and caring, and that implies aspiration to some unattainable state.
Values Statement: A series of words/phrases, often in bullet format that gives website viewers the impression that the organization is of impeccable character. They usually include the standards: honesty, integrity, transparency, and customer/donor focused.
SWOT Assessment: A graphic flip-chart quadrant completed during a retreat that includes some over-stated strengths, a multitude of weaknesses, some far-fetched opportunities, and threats of funding losses.
Strategic Plan: A branded document, updated every 5 years that contains mission, vision, and values statements, a SWOT Analysis, and a few misaligned strategies that the organization will never actually invest in, and that the most of the organization’s key stakeholders will never see again.
Sound cynical? Okay. I’ll admit it. This is extreme cynicism based in experience. However, I am guessing that many readers of this will actually laugh out loud — not because of its ridiculousness, but because of it’s accuracy.
Surely, you have heard this question in the board room: “How many people on the street could quote our mission statement?”
My answer: Who cares? The memorization of a catchy mission statement is not what’s meaningful. Knowing the real mission at its heart is.
Here are a few alternate questions to ask in the boardroom:
- Do people know why we’re really here?
- Does it matter to them?
- Do we even know ourselves why we are here?
- Does our mission inspire people to join us?
- Is our purpose relevant now? Here?
- Can our mission actually ever be accomplished?
- Is our current work really driving our mission?
There are many other questions to ask about mission, vision, and values. But we rarely pause to ask ourselves those questions.
The formulation and execution of effective strategy involves far more than word-smithing. The problem with the sarcastic definitions above is that they are all too real and common, and when an organization goes through strategic planning in such a fashion, it can be considered lazy at best.
Anyone can come up with values that we should all embrace. If we have to put these on our website to convince people we are honest and caring, we have a bigger problem.
Here are some better values questions:
- What rules will we never break as we go about our work?
- What approaches to this cause make us unique? Why do we take THOSE approaches?
- What do we care most about?
I recently coached a national organization/association of service providers to ask these questions, and they articulated (for themselves) their true values:
- First and foremost, our primary focus is on providers.
- We work as a team, each role in concert with the whole, in pursuit of our vision.
- We provide equal opportunity for any who wish to advance the mission with us.
- We consistently ask WHY.
- We first determine WHAT is right, then HOW to do it.
- Our decisions and our message are founded in credible data.
Your character will be displayed in the brand experience you give your stakeholders.
In summary, don’t focus on the word-smithing. Get the essence right, and then live it.
One of the things I do in my coaching work is listen carefully to leaders describe their real purpose, vision, and values, and then help them with the words, so their time can be spent focused on essence. Words are important, but they are shallow and powerless if left to themselves, with no real life!
At least that’s The Jinks Perspective!