Do You Confuse Vision and Mission?

Whenever I work with a group regarding strategic planning, I find the wordsvision-mission vision and mission often need definition. Perhaps some of the confusion comes from faith-based organizations using the word mission to mean what a commercial organization often calls vision. Simply put, vision is a description of how your organization expects to improve the welfare of your customers and community and mission describes how you will progress toward the vision in the short term. Let us address the two terms in detail:

Vision: The Internet has made it possible for every enterprise and individual to capture a global audience if they have a message the world finds interesting. The vision is a succinct, compelling statement describing who will benefit from the existence of this operation and how. It is the “punchline” for why people should buy from you, invest in you, and work for you. The focus is on how you want the world to perceive what your organization will become. Visions are supposed to be a bit hazy. This is because they ideally deal with qualities and character more than tangible actions. My suggestions for vision statements are:

  • Remember words of appreciation you have received from customers and integrate exactly what they appreciated in the statement
  • Prepare a list of three to five descriptors that you would like people to use in remembering your organization. Think about how they fit into your vision.
  • Include all of the relevant characters in the vision (i.e. customers, employees, surrounding community, etc.)
  • Use visual, metaphorical language and try to keep it under 25 words if possible
  • If your statement proclaims the organization to be a leader or “#1”, be sure it is evident how the world will come to that conclusion

Mission: The mission statement highlights the few areas of focus in the current planning period. Mission statements leave no doubt on what will be done and the result to be achieved. My suggestions for mission statements are:

  • Vital missions target innovation and change. Remember that customers just assume you deliver quality products and services and do not need to embark on a mission to do so.
  • Focus the organization on the critical goals and results to be achieved
  • State how the organization will be held accountable. Include measures, priorities, completion dates, and who will lead the mission
  • Mission goals should be realistic and supported by describing investment of talent and capital to involved parties.
  • Review mission progress on at least a quarterly basis

This is how I introduce these key concepts. For a leader or executive, these two elements are the most important part of a strategy. Please share your comments on best practices for vision and mission.

Boosting Productivity with Strategy

Last month, I discussed how too narrow a focus on metrics and results can have unintended consequences that impact management’s anticipated outcomes. Employee disengagement, customer complaints, and material shortages can impede results if management does not take a broad enough view of the organization.

Enterprise management is a system. Often, managers think they can treat functional areas as independent systems. Organizations that subscribe to LEAN operations can easily fall into this trap if they are not careful. Telltale warning signs are holding department managers accountable to measures that are only influenced by their department or isolating front office operations from the production floor.

Keeping a balance between how employees are directed and developed and process management is a simple model for broadening management perspective. Organizations that place too much focus on their employees can become locked in “fire-fighting mode”, develop reactive management unable to address longer-term goals, and display difficulty in predicting cost and cash flow. Companies that focus too heavily on process can experience variance problems due to lack of inter-department communication, lack focus on strategy and are unresponsive to supporting broader goals, and lose their ability to innovate in the marketplace.

Strategy and leadership are the levers that balance these two domains. Many of companies’ top performers are pragmatists that wince at the mere mention of “strategic plan.”  Strategic planning often draws a negative response because so many companies do it poorly or not at all. A good strategic plan sets investment levels between people, process, and assets. A good plan checks for employee skill deficiencies and assures that incentives and measures are aligned with the strategy. How many times have you seen a company announce a new initiative and not update their management scorecard? The key measurement for the quality of a strategy is how successfully it affects change. 

The Yin and Yang of a Down Economy

Times of diminished product demand are a test of management and leadership prowess. The sustainability of a business relies on both identifying new market opportunities and establishing a cost structure that maintains liquidity. Too often, urgency and a distorted sense of time scarcity create an opposing duality that Chinese Zen Buddhists called Yin and Yang. Organizations often view consideration and planning in direct opposition to initiative and action. Yet in business, the two are inseparable.

A mistake that management teams can make is to not scale the investment in planning to the investment in capital and labor. Sometimes “the plan” need be no more than checking a project’s alignment with longer-term strategy, quantifying both the reward of success and consequence of failure, and identifying possible obstacles. The essential, and often forgotten, step is communicating the plan to the organization and listening for feedback. The costs of overlooking a plan are large:

  • A lack of coordination leading to project failure
  • Breakdown in trust and communication between individuals and departments
  • Loss of leadership credibility and employee engagement
  • Frequent  changes in direction threaten the core business and lead to employee burnout
  • Stiffened organizational resistance to future change

Repairing the damage from poor planning can entail restatement of organizational goals, mediation of grievances between management and employees, and stronger focus on teambuilding and enforcing values. Speak to me if you would like more information. 

Making Resolutions: Passion or Procrastination?

As 2012 comes to a close, we brace ourselves for the media highlight reels and the perfunctory New Year’s Resolutions. So often when I talk to people about resolutions, I see rolling eyeballs and shaking heads.  At least one of the reasons that resolutions are abandoned so quickly is that people don’t know how to make them. The same can be said for business executives and how they set annual goals.

Have–Do–Be or Be–Do–Have? The first question to ask when setting a goal is, “Is this goal about having something or doing something?” The New Year’s crowd will often say they want weight loss or more money. Businesses will report they want more revenue, more customers, and better quality. The problem is that these goals do not identify any action. My experience is that the New Age axiom of “Be-Do-Have” is the progression that leads to personal and organizational transformation.  Statements like “I will be fit” or “I will be more visible in the market” or “I will be more competitive” provide clarity and open possibilities for innovative action.

Is it your passion? Passionless goals and resolutions dissolve quickly. Ask yourself what are the aspects about your vocation and your life that REALLY get you excited. On the personal side, it might be travel, quality time with the family, access to education, or creative expression. For a business it might be surprising a customer by exceeding their expectations, innovation breakthroughs, or growing a more participatory culture. Successful executives are mindful of both personal and organizational passions and are certain to feature them in vision statements.

Is it specific and obtainable? It’s fine to “think big” and challenge an organization. But if you leave it up to the organization to find the way forward, you won’t find the cooperation to get the job done. I suggest taking a lofty goal and break it up into identifiable milestones. Above all, be certain who are responsible, what will be done, and when will it be complete.

What’s in the way? I’ve observed that the “secret sauce” for goal success is how obstacles are handled. There is enormous value in clarifying obstacles as long as it is handled with the understanding it cannot impact the commitment to the goal. In toxic cultures, discussing obstacles can be interpreted as weakness, complaining, or even bring into question one’s competence. In a healthy organization, managers identify discussions about obstacles as an opportunity to coax the organization to try something it’s never tried before. As an aside, guiding the transformation of a culture to tackle this issue is one of my passions. 

It All Starts with a Plan

In a difficult times, it is natural for organizations to focus more closely on achieving revenue requirements and critical objectives and to place business planning on the “back burner.” If these reactive periods continue over an extended period of time, inefficiencies and missed opportunities can ensue; not to mention exhaustion. Taking a few hours with your team to compare the business plan to current market conditions permits necessary correction to the plan and reinvigorates morale. The plan review can uncover insights, such as:

  • Changes in the competitive landscape
  • Opportunities to extend offerings by integrating complementary products and value-added services
  • Identify investments that can improve competitiveness, responsiveness to customers, or profitability

Taking your eye off the strategic issues can move an organization from challenging times to challenges that may be difficult to recover from.

The previous comments assume an organization has a business plan. Small business leaders often operate without a formal written plan. While many business leaders are skilled enough to steer the business without a formal plan, these leaders are forfeiting opportunities to engage their employees with a planning process. Diminished employee engagement will weaken management systems and hinder initiative.

The key elements of a strategic plan are:

  • A Five-Year (or longer) Vision for the Business
  • Market Trends and Competitive Analysis
  • Strengths and Weaknesses of the Business (as perceived by the customer)
  • Market Opportunities and Threats
  • Growth Strategies (including organization measures and objectives)
  • Specific, Measurable Action Plans

The Action Plan is the most critical piece of the plan. These plans align employee efforts, reflect progress, and move accountability to the lowest level possible in the organization.

As the year wraps up, take a minute to understand why you achieved your level of results and discuss with your organization the best plan forward.