Recently I have found myself running virtually every business topic I consider though the grid of the social era. This is particularly interesting to me since there are a number of principles in business that are timeless in nature, but undergo countless changes in their application due to sociological shifts. Organizational change is no exception. In fact, I would say a topic such as organizational change is amplified through the rapid shift in how business is done in the last few years, and our organization is no exception to the current trend of significant change management. As I help lead our department in particular with some significant organizational, technology and philosophical changes, I have recently been revisiting the idea of a formalized mission statement. On its own, a mission statement could easily fall on deaf ears. But when a statement of mission, vision and values reflects a significant trend within an organization, it can take on a whole new meaning by underpinning the overall strategy. I think this is particularly effective for change management.
Fluff or Substance?
Regarding the actual message, a mission statement seems to be effective based on focus, specificity, substance and conciseness. I believe the message, rather than simply a statement, being lived out through effective leadership can help an organization as a people stay on target. Although not all organization have a mission and are able to function (Bobinski, 2010), they do reflect an essential core of an organization, and all should have one. Some may not agree with this, and that’s fine. I have certainly seen all the negativity and cynicism of an organization with lofty mission statements whose culture is in direct contradiction that statement. But I am talking about philosophical underpinning for leadership. The mission statement should be something that can always be referred back to, as a tie back for business activity, policy, and future planning. A stated mission needs to be general enough to account for change in a business model, as market demand changes.
The Components: General or Specific?
For specificity, an organization involved in public safety provides a good model for understanding the significance of a formally stated mission, vision and values. This is due to the fact that a law enforcement agency has a relatively narrow raison d’être – public safety. For example, I once read of the existence of a law enforcement agency as follows:
“To Protect; through Safety, Accountability, Partnerships and Opportunities for Offender Change.”
This provides a good concise model for a more defined purpose, which would make a lot of sense for non-profits and similar organizations. It does not go on paragraph after paragraph, in an ambiguous way that eventually loses its meaning somewhere within all the words. Rather, it provides a short, punchy, straightforwardly worded opening clause, and a meaningful finish that is actually cause for reflection. This specificity does not necessarily lend itself as easily to a for-profit enterprise. Not impossible, just different. This is not to say a mission or vision statement is somehow gutted of meaning simply because the primary existence if the organization is to make money, it just takes a little more creativity.
What About Vision, Just Another Pipe Dream?
Vision on the other hand is just that; it is something that may not necessarily exist at this present time. Vision speaks to, “we want to be…somewhere, something, etc” (Grusenmeyer). But a vision cannot simply be the free association of a charismatic leader’s imagination. Vision must “reflect core values (long term), and permeate all staff in terms of communication” (Grusenmeyer). Now this is where an age old principal of the vision of an organization comes flat up against doing business in the social era. There has never been a better time for ideas to permeate ever strata of an organization. The Millennials simply expect it, and any effort the comes short of a collaborative approach (that has been promised for decades) will be met with frustration and ultimately a lack of productivity. What’s more, the lost opportunity cost by not tapping into the next generation’s strengths is a comprehensive failure in leadership. This leadership is needed to communicate vision, but it must get traction with the people who make up the organization. Vision is tied to values, since values measure importance. Values and goals reflect who the organization is, from the inside out. These reflect priorities, ethics, quality, and how people interact with these. How are you going to begin this conversation in your firm, organization or company?
Bobinski, D. (2010). How a Clear Vision and Mission Leads to More Profits. JobDig. Retrieved from http://www.jobdig.com/articles/656/How_a_Clear_Vision_and_Mission_Leads_to_More_Profits.html
Grusenmeyer, D. Vision, Mission,Values and Goals. Pro-Dairy. Retrieved from http://emba1.csumb.edu/learn/assets/BUS601/CSUMB_BUS601_W6_1_vmvg.pdf
Mission, Vision and Values. Idaho Department of Correction. Retrieved from http://www.idoc.idaho.gov/about_us/mission.htm