Let’s face it, while being the most popular management tool of the past 20 years, the mission statement is also, by and far, the least respected and most misunderstood. That’s because most leaders fail to appreciate what a mission statement is actually supposed to do: focus, motivate and control the behavior of organizational members in their pursuit of key goals.
So why might your mission statement not be engaging your employees the way they are supposed to? Here are 5 questions to ask yourself about your organization’s mission statement that can help you make it more effective and increase its acceptance:
#1. Has the mission development process involved a cross section of the organization’s key stakeholders?
The more stakeholders are involved in the process the better. So, their input should be solicited and considered, and if warranted, incorporated into the final document.
I don’t just mean high level executives and managers either. A mission’s success ultimately depends on its acceptance by employees at all levels. Ignoring your middle managers and front line employees is just setting your mission up for rejection. As a leader, the last thing you want to hear is, “It’s not my mission, it’s their mission.” Your front line is crucial for a mission’s implementation, so make sure they’re included in its development.
#2. Does your mission statement answer the question: “Why do we exist?”
Now, what we’re talking about here Is purpose, not vision. Vision is the long-game. The overarching BIG goal. The moon landing. The cure for cancer. Purpose, on the other hand, defines the enduring and quintessential nature of the organization – why the company exists and on whose support, loyalty and commitment the organization depends to survive.
When wrapping your head around that one, it’s important to clearly specify the organization’s values, and to balance the competing interests of key external and internal stakeholders.
#3. Is there a high level of satisfaction with the current mission statement?
The principle behind this question is quite simple: the higher the satisfaction with the mission statement, the greater its impact on growth and employee behavior. This may appear self-evident, but it continues to amaze me the number of times I have found that firms were impatient to sign off on their mission development process “just to get on with it.”
#4. Is the mission statement currently known to all key employees?
This sounds like a duh question, doesn’t it? You’ve read it and thought “Of course they know it! They helped create it and were given a copy!” And, “it’s posted everywhere!”
Without looking, however, try writing it out right now. Then, randomly ask someone else in your office to do the same. Now ask the receptionist and another front-line employee. See?
On-going familiarity with the mission statement and what it means to each employee is the first step in successful implementation. For more on this particular aspect of things, you’ll want to read the book A Tale of Two Employees.
#5. Is the mission statement a daily part of organizational life?
Do you regularly refer to your organization’s mission it in meetings? Does it relate to strategic and operating plans? Budgets? Training? Recruitment, promotion, reward programs? I have found that the more a firm aligns its management systems and procedures with its mission, the higher the level of performance achieved. When the mission statement is just a shiny plaque hanging on the wall, it’s next to worthless.
Mission statements can provide the élan vitale in corporate life. The problem is, most managers don’t know how to tap into their potential. For a mission statement to work its magic, it must use the right words, but even more critically, it must be developed in the right way. Go ahead, test your own organization’s mission statement against these five questions, and see where you may be missing the mark!