Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mission Statements

Have I mentioned lately that I am down on mission statements? It's nothing personal if you do happen to have one. It's not that they can't be useful, at least to a few.

I have to agree with Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist, that they are just overrated and generally cost too much time and money to generate. Instead, he suggests something else that may be more profound for the organization.

Now I do believe in understanding what you are trying to accomplish. But is it really that difficult? If you are a business, you are striving to provide a great product or serve the customer while keeping expenses lower than cost. If you are a church, you are striving to develop committed disciples of Jesus.

Oh, you may get fancy on how you say it. It may take a long weekend, or maybe even six months of weekends, to create a fancy paragraph saying basically the same thing. May I suggest another avenue? Dilbert's Mission Statement Generator can do all that for you within a couple of seconds. Here is the one that it generated for me:

We exist to seamlessly supply low-risk high-yield meta-services and collaboratively maintain resource-leveling catalysts for change.
It works as well as many that I've seen. The What and How are the real issue, and they should be examined often since it can and should change.

Here is what Guy Kawasaki says that is even better than a mission statement: a Mantra. Why? Easy to remember, gives a picture of what we are about. A good example? FedEx = "Peace of Mind". What are some great Mantras that you have seen or heard that give a wonderful picture of what the organization is striving for?

In reality, the tough questions are: 1) Are people commiteed to our mission; 2) What are we doing well right now to accomplish our mission; and 3) What are the opportunities available to us in the near future. Those are the six months worth of weekends.

As for number 1, people have to know what the mission is in order to be committed to it, so you do have to make it readily apparent. You would think this would be a no-brainer in the business world, but it really isn't. People get the notions that the business exists to give them a job, to provide office supplies for their home, to provide a forum for idle chatter about how you hope Sanjaya wins American Idol, etc.

This is why it is important to build a wonderful work culture and a great organization. When I worked for a renown management consulting firm, I didn't have to worry about begging other employees to work harder or remind them that they were getting a pay check for actual work done; if they weren't motivated, there were a hundred people lined up ready to take their job.

I want to work and volunteer with people who are as excited about what they are doing as I am. This isn't always the case, but it should be what we are striving for.

As for number 2, your strengths are what are going to help you accomplish your tasks, so take them seriously. Do them even better next year. And drop everything else (which is really the tough part). If you are not excited about it, why are you doing it? What are the last five parts of the organization that you talk about to people, if you talk about them at all? This should be a group exercise, since one person shouldn't do this alone (I might not be as excited about something, but a majority of others in leadership may be). Northpoint Community Church has a wonderful podcast series called "Practically Speaking" that speaks well to these organizational issues.

As for number 3, I'm amazed at how easy it is to get in a rut and just do what is comfortable. Even for me, and I am one of the few that gets antzy if life looks normal for too long. We need people who can speak into our lives and ask questions, annoying questions that you want to squash like that fly that lingers around and you wonder where it has been cleaning itself off. You need, I need it, we all need it, and then thank the person with the annoying questions. Some people prefer paying people occasionally to ask those questions; I'd suggest just finding someone who likes what you are trying to do and can prod with some skill.

As for number 4, what is it that you think should be THE most important questions that organizations should ask themselves?

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