Mission, vision, and values. What do these terms mean to you and your organization? Are they just vague concepts being used loosely by the management, or do they really bring your organization a competitive edge?
In this article, we are going to share some useful insights on this topic. Whether you’re feeling baffled by the corporate mambo-jumbo, or if you’re genuinely interested to shape the direction for your organization, these ideas will definitely come in useful.
WHY DO I EXIST?
Basically, any company must be able to answer this question, “What does my company exist to do, and why?” If you’re an entrepreneur, the book “Beyond the Emyth” helps define the link between your dreams and ideals as a business owner and the company you’re creating/driving. In a nutshell, every entrepreneur has 4 roles or personalities: The Dreamer, Thinker, Storyteller, Leader. These shape 4 aspects of your business—your Dream, Vision, Purpose and Mission—which jointly define the answer to the question above.
Let’s dig deeper into how you can define a meaningful mission to guide your company, and how to bring it to life in concrete ways.
A STEP-BY-STEP FRAMEWORK TO ACHIEVE CLARITY
In “The Advantage“, Patrick Lencioni presents 4 disciplines which can be used to improve organizational health and build a strong foundation for success.
One of the 4 disciplines is to gain organizational clarity using 6 key questions. This is by far our favorite framework for defining mission and translating it into concrete behaviors and actionable focus areas. Let’s take a quick look at what it entails.
• Question 1: Why do we exist? This question addresses a company’s core purpose or its reason for existence. Your core purpose is a guide for your organization, providing a long-term direction for every employee. It is not a differentiator or a flashy marketing slogan, which is why 2 totally different businesses can share the same purpose. Start by asking: “How do we contribute to a better world?”. Then, keep asking “why” to dig deeper. Your final answer is likely to be along the lines of “making the world a better place”, and not just about making money.
• Question 2: How do we behave? Your company’s core values define your personality, and this question addresses how your values should be brought to life. To answer this question specifically and filter out your core values, Lencioni differentiates between different types of values—core values, aspirational values, permission-to-play and accidental values. In particular, your core values are the key values that define your company’s identity and must guide everything you do, from strategy to hiring/firing staff. You should have only 2-3 core values—they must already exist and are so vital that you’ll never compromise or change them.
• Question 3: What do we do? This question delivers your business definition—a one-sentence, concrete and straightforward description of what you do, e.g. “We provide payment products and extend credit to consumers”. Your business definition may change over time as the core activities in your company shift to meet market needs.
• Question 4: How will we succeed? The question helps you to define your strategy, which is essentially your plan for success, or the sum of all your deliberate decisions to improve your competitive position. Lencioni guides us through a process where we brainstorm our strategies, list down the key decisions and realities, identify the patterns and distill it down to 3 strategic anchors that can be used to guide every decision in the company.
• Question 5: What is the most important, right now? At any point in time, there should be only one top priority to align the entire company. This is where we move from the high-level mission, values and strategies into something that aligns the entire company, now. Ask yourself: “If we can accomplish only 1 thing in the next X months, what must it be?” The book takes this further to break it down into a thematic goal, 4-6 defining objectives, followed by the standard operating objectives.
• Question 6: Who must do what? Building on the answers from Question 5, leaders can now define who to do what, in order to achieve those goals.
A REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE
The 6 questions above help you to make your mission/core purpose concrete for everyone in the organization. However, translating it into actual practices, systems and day-to-day activities takes work—hard, consistent work.
Google is a great case study that brings the ideas above to life. In “Work Rules!“, Laszlo Bock shares insider perspectives of how Google’s mission and culture flow from its founders and get translated into all aspects of its business.
Basically, a great mission is so broad that it can never be achieved, and acts as a compass to guide the company’s decisions. Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This statement deliberately omits the mention of profit, shareholders and customers, yet clearly conveys how it helps people. It’s also evergreen since there’ll always be more information, and more ways to organize it and make it useful.
Such a mission made many of Google’s innovations possible. For example, Street View (an app that allows people to see a place from ground level as if they were physically there) would never have been created for a profit-goal. Bock also explains how the philosophies and values are manifested in everything from the way Google hires/fires to the way they reward people, share information and learn as an organization.
PUTTING THE IDEAS TO USE
Obviously, getting mission clarity and translating it into all parts of your organization won’t happen overnight. However, you’ll find that the more you review processes/ ideas like the ones above, the clearer things become.
Give it a shot, read up more in our online summaries (via the links above) or check out the books/full summaries in our store, or upgrade to our monthly/annual subscriptions to get access to all our titles!