Platitudes or Imperatives – Mission, Vision and Strategy
A few weeks ago I spent a day interviewing the members of the leadership team of a fast growing services business in SE Asia. Talking with young, intelligent, energised and switched on leaders is always great. Within a few minutes it is easy to ascertain which leaders understand the company Mission, Vision and Strategy. More importunately one can gauge the level of engagement and alignment.
In this particular instance the responses varied from lack of engagement to “own agenda” engaged to fully engaged. I concluded there was a lack of alignment which was one of the reasons for low company performance.
If you want key stakeholders engaged and “walking the talk” on strategy and strategic priorities, then the best place to start is with the foundation pieces of Mission and Vision.
Platitudes or Imperatives – some examples:
- Branded Wall Posters: this is a common method for companies to communicate a Mission, Vision, Values and Strategy. They look good. However, if there is not full engagement and alignment on these foundation pieces then it is a platitude and it would be best to use the wall space for a beautiful art piece.
- CEO Messaging: If the CEO is messaging regularly on the Mission but the leadership team is not demonstrating this in the business units on a daily basis then it is a platitude.
As CEO of a growing organisation you have a responsibility to ensure the Mission and Vision is understood, adopted and permeates every part of your organisation. This is an imperative and a pre-cursor to strategy invigoration, alignment throughout your organisation and optimising business outcomes.
Question 8 in the widely used Gallup Q12 engagement survey asks employees:
“Does the Mission or Purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?”
Commonly the response to this question indicates poor engagement which starts with the leaders and flows through to the individual contributors. There are many reasons why this is the case but it can be remedied.
Where to start?
Modern businesses are changing more rapidly than ever before. In most cases you will already have a mission. Test it out with a small group (5 to 7) of your most senior leaders.
· Is the mission statement up to date?
· Who are the customers that are best served?
· What do the key stakeholders think?
Here are some questions to put in a survey to test the health and robustness of your Mission.
1. Why does our company exist?
2. What are the compelling reasons for employees to be engaged with the company?
3. What do the shareholders want?
4. What benefit is there for the broader community from the company’s activities?
5. What is driving our business forward and creating growth and change?
If the Mission health check result is positive but there is still a lack of engagement, then the issue may be one of communication and education.
My experience as a CEO managing a business with, predominantly, millenials on staff has taught me that the management style required is much more consultative. Small group meetings improve the quality of the feedback and suggestions.
Successful CEOs I speak with confirm that they are spending significant time with younger staff in small groups, listening to problems and suggestions from managers and individual contributors.
Assuming your company is filled with smart people you will need to sell the Mission. They want to know the context of their function in the organisation. As part of this you must bring the Mission to life by weaving it into the culture, the company language and leadership decisions.
There are many Mission “how to” guides and words of wisdom which will help you in crafting a new Mission or polishing the existing. One popularly espoused point I disagree on is the idea that a Mission should be looking a long time into the future. Modern business has redefined long term planning and shortened up the horizon.
Typically, a Mission is not time bound. It is supposed to be enduring. However, if you have a Mission reflecting your company’s reason for existing over the next 5 to 10 year I think that is ambitious and a great start.
With your Mission in place you are set to write or clean up your Vision statement. The main difference between Mission and Vision is timing. “In 5 years our company will….” The Vision paints a picture of how the company will look. What will be achieved in the specified time period. Contrast that with the Mission which can never really be reached or achieved, it’s a pilgrimage.
Other features of your Vision Statement should be verifiable, feasible and inspirational.
One story I heard recently was of key stakeholders who had rejected business plans for the upcoming fiscal year more than 3 times in the planning cycle. This seemed symptomatic of a weak Vision and with the stakeholders not aligned on Strategy.
Happy with your Mission and Vision? Next step is to review your Strategy.
A Global VP of Sales I worked with many moons ago was fond of saying: “we can’t spend time talking about that – it’s a distraction”. It was a great lesson in how to execute the correct strategic initiatives.
A strategy is as much about what you do and, just as importantly, what you don’t do. This is important to document on both sides of the ledger so everyone is focused and carrying out the Mission to achieve the Vision.
The following table illustrates a simple approach to Strategy:
An entrepreneur friend running his own enterprise software business recently recounted how important it became for him to get rid of all his client facing sales people. His strategy was to sell online and to use digital marketing and online sales to achieve his vision. As part of the same strategy he segmented his clients carefully and then politely disengaged with those outside the strategic segment.
So far his business is turning around with increased sales and reduced costs. Whether his decision is right or wrong time will tell. However, it’s a good start. He knows how to sell, what he is selling and who he is selling to. He knows what will deliver his company Vision.
If your Mission, Vision and Strategy are not engaging the rank and file of the company then they are just platitudes.
If the Mission, Vision and Strategy are understood and engaging then they are imperatives and your company is poised for the next step which is setting up a strategy map with objectives, setting targets and prioritising strategic initiatives.