By Daniel Bobinski
If you’re on a team, I challenge you to ask each team member the following question: “What would you say is our team’s purpose?” It’s another way to ask what your team is trying to achieve. Take note of the answers you get. Chances are you will hear different responses, and perhaps you will hear the ever popular, “I don’t know.” Some people may even laugh.
A few years ago, a Gallup survey found that only about half of employees know what’s truly expected of them. Most people just show up and follow the day’s “to-do” list, but when people know how their job fits into a bigger picture, they are more likely to be engaged and more productive. Oh, and happier, too.
If a question about your team’s purpose elicits shoulder shrugs or inconsistent answers, it’s almost always because of a missing or under-communicated vision and mission statement. If a company or a team has a mission statement, a common problem it’s an overly vague generalization that could apply to almost any company. Consider the following statement, which I found hanging on the wall of a company I visited about 10 years ago:
“[XYZ Company] is committed to complying with the standards of its quality management system to provide total customer satisfaction through continual improvement of its products and processes. The objective of the quality management system is to drive and review programs and initiatives to provide customers with quality products and superior value.”
Do you think anyone in that company could recite that mission statement? Do you think anyone could explain how their job helped the company achieve it? Do you think anyone cared?
If you answered, “no” to any of those questions you are not alone. It’s a directionless statement full of buzz words. In case you’re wondering, that company closed its doors six years ago.
As in the example above, mission statements are often paragraphs-long, making them almost impossible to be recalled by anybody. Therefore, such statements are largely useless.
This problem is compounded when vision and mission statements are intermixed, further clouding their practicality. In fact, if you’re still in the mode of asking questions of your team members, ask people to define the difference between vision and mission. Chances are you’ll get a wide range of responses.
The Nuts and Bolts of Vision and Mission
I cannot blame people for not knowing the difference between vision and mission statements, because the concept isn’t even taught well in business schools. So, with the intention of making your team more focused and effective, allow me to offer an easy way to remember how to create a clearly understood vision and mission statement.
- Vision statement: Where you see your organization being; or you want to go
- Mission statement: What you do to get there
The key to successful and useful statements is to keep them short, specific and memorable. Here’s a simple example:
Vision: Widget Manufacturing will be recognized nationwide for producing the highest quality widgets.
Mission: Widget Manufacturing strives to:
- Research and integrate the latest, most reliable widget technology
- Use the most reliable widget manufacturing process, and
- Provide unparalleled customer service to every widget customer
Note that the vision statement is not what the company will do but where they want to be. Furthermore, note that the mission statement outlines what the company will do. The differences are quite clear.
Most of the time a company keeps its vision statement to itself, since where a company sees itself being is nobody else’s business. Besides, if the competition knew where you wanted to be, they could create a strategy to get in your way. The purpose of a vision statement is to guide top leadership in making strategic decisions.
On the other hand, a mission statement clarifies what your company does. If you want your company or team to remain focused, people need to know what they’re supposed to do, both internally and externally. Internally, a mission statement keeps employees focused, because what’s listed in the mission statement forms a basis for making tactical decisions. In other words, if managers have several options for actions on the table, looking at them in light of the organization’s mission statement helps when choosing a course of action. Whatever a team does should be guided by the mission to move the company in the direction of the vision.
Externally, publishing your mission statement tells your clients what they can expect from you. Knowing that provides customers a sense of stability and security, and they can be more comfortable doing business with you. That leads to longevity and profitability.
Does a company need a vision and mission statement to function? Obviously not. The mere fact that many companies survive without them answers that question. So, what is the benefit of having them?
Simply stated, the answer is focus and flow, plus a foundation for decisions. In other words, thriving instead of surviving. Aligning a team’s efforts with an agreed-upon focus saves time and frustration, and it makes a company much more effective and productive.
The Consequences of No Shared Vision
It’s common for strife to exist in companies when no shared focus exists. When a company lacks a vision to which all subscribe, individual vision missions tend to rise up and compete with each other. The result is conflict, delays, and lost revenues, all because of unnecessary turf wars consuming time and energy.
Creating a clear corporate vision minimizes pet projects and helps point everyone in the same direction.
How to Promote Your Mission Statement
First, remember that your vision and mission statements must be short and sweet, otherwise people can’t memorize them. Second, your mission statement should be posted on the company website and also published on company literature. It should also be posted throughout the workplace so people can see it, and be reminded to use it as a guideline for operations. Everyone from the top down should be able to recite your company’s mission statement from memory. Managers, supervisors and leaders should talk about the bullet points in the statement in casual conversation. If top management eats, drinks and breathes the mission statement, everyone else will too. If management ignores your mission statement, so will everyone else. •
Daniel Bobinski, who has a doctorate in theology, is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach him by email at DanielBobinski@protonmail.com or 208-375-7606.