Over the years, as a manager and consultant, I have had the opportunity to participate in numerous Mission, Vision and Values exercises, involving both large and small organizations. Many have been fun, some just OK, and some downright tedious. The worst of these exercises generally involve excessive debate about the right wording — usually resulting in far too many words — and final phraseology that is either overly abstract, or subject to so many interpretations that it undermines their purpose. Though they may hang on the wall in a lobby or appear in slick brochures, these statements are of little value unless they explain what you actually do and what you aim for– day in and day out — in doing it. So below I will do my best to briefly summarize what my experience has taught me generally results in getting these statements about right.
While some will always wish to argue about what a mission statement should look like, I believe it should plainly state — as clearly as possible — what your company, business, organization, or agency wishes to do or accomplish for your customers in your field of endeavor; be it telecommunications, electronics, paint sales, home redecorating, men’s clothing, shoe sales, cable news, air transport, whatever. An organization’s mission statement is primarily for the outside world telling them what you are about and hope to achieve. The best are simple and clear in statement, easy to remember, parsimonious in language, and as uncluttered as possible with glowing adjectives like “extraordinary”, “incredible”, “exceptional”, and phrases like “world-class”, “best-in-breed” and “cutting-edge”. Every organization hopes others will see them in such favorable terms. Do not over-do the self praise. The important point is what you aim to do as an organization. Some good examples I found on-line:
Google — “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. (12 words)
First Republic Bank — “We will continue to provide strength, stability, and extraordinary service”. (10 words and only one extraordinary, which they strive to back up through their daily treatment of their customers)
Dupont — “Sustainable growth: increasing shareholder and societal value while reducing our environmental footprint”. (12 words)
Verizon Wireless — “To enable people and businesses to communicate with each other”. (10 words)
Walt Disney — “To make people happy”. (4 words)
While your mission statement is for the outside world, your vision is primarily for internal consumption. Because a vision is about some future state, a good statement of your vision conveys to all employees a sense of where you are going and the how — or the means through which — you aim to get their. In essence, your vision should capture how you see yourselves being able to succeed. It should inspire and absolutely lend itself to translation into daily action, behavior and organizational decision-making that moves you toward its accomplishment.
Apple Inc.’s vision, for example, has always embodied the notion of “constant innovation”, or as Steve Jobs liked to say “think different”. Spend fifteen minutes in any Apple Store or purchase one of their marvelous products and you will see, sense and experience the spirit of their vision for yourself. Look at Verizon Wireless’ mission statement above, then consider their vision as communicated in all their advertising “America’s fastest, most reliable network”. In both these cases it is easy to see how these visions can drive product and customer service decisions on a daily basis.
Or consider Southwest Airlines whose corporate vision or self-concept is “America’s low-cost, low-fare airline”. To help realize that vision Southwest flies only one type of aircraft — the Boeing 737 — which reduces training and maintenance costs; they serve no on-board meals and have the flight attendants clean the cabin after landing; they avoid airports with high landing and gate fees; they make decisions based on profit potential not expanding their market share; and they cross-train as many employees as they can to cover for absences and weather emergencies. Their vision, in other words, lives in everything they do.
There is a cornucopia of values that most organizations can choose from. High on most lists are trust, honesty, integrity, respect, teamwork, accountability, responsibility, diversity, and professionalism. As a consultant, I encourage none of these values over others; these are organizational decisions alone. However, I do come down hard on the issue of legitimacy. Specifically, if your stated values are not in daily evidence in the actual behavior of your employees, in the manner in which employees treat one another, in the way management conducts itself both internally and in its customer relationships, in your hiring practices, and in the way pay, promotions and rewards get distributed, do not hang them on your walls or publish them in annual reports.
Few things breed a deeper cynicism within a workforce than the hypocrisy of the disconnect between what an organization says it values and how it actually behaves. And trust, respect, and teamwork are usually the first casualties.