Are mission statements impossible?

For an organisation to succeed there should be collaboration and understanding across all levels. But are Mission Statements really Mission Impossible?  For those of you who know me, this is a consistent theme of mine. But how do you make this happen? To put it simply, you need to gain an accurate understanding of the bigger picture, then dive in to decide upon the details.

All organisations should have a mission statement or a vision.  So stating clearly their future and illustrating the flavour of the business. We have all seen mission statements framed neatly in reception areas.  Or featured in big and bold letters in a prominent place on a company’s website. These mission statements may sound impressive, but has the entire business actually bought into these statements?

Mission tick box?

Sometimes I feel these mission statements are just a tick-box exercise. These statements may even be something of a dream, nicely phrased views of what the owners may hope the business will one day look like.  The guys at 37Signals in the US made a very valid point in their bestseller, Rework“there’s a world of difference between truly standing for something and having a mission statement that says you stand for something……….. It’s about believing it and living it”.

You can’t force people to believe in and live according to a mission statement. So, how exactly do you get everyone to share and buy-in to your company’s mission statement? My first piece of advice is not to see the exercise as getting a buy-in, but rather a sharing exercise. If you were to ask me for my buy-in I’d feel that I was being persuaded to do something.

By complying I’d feel I was following the “rules”. Assuming you want me to believe in the mission and promote it, without prompting, then I need to be involved in shaping or contributing to it. If someone has been a part of the creation of the statement then this should create a sense of pride and self-motivation. In my experience people who contribute to a shared vision or mission go on to do incredible things.  Those things are innovative and could never have been “ordered from management”.

Once this is understood, you need to find a process that is right for your organisation. One which lets staff contribute in some way to developing the vision or mission.

For an example of “building a shared business vision” check out the case study about Foundation on my case studies page Building a Shared Vision .

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