By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD
For years, a reoccurring line from the movie Blues Brothers has puzzled me. I’m not sure if I should be offended or amused with the protagonist’s assertion, “We’re on a mission from God.” The “mission” of this critically disparaged, yet once popular film, might be to simply levy mayhem upon Chicago. However, the epiphany of Jake and Elwood is to “put the band back together.” As mission statements go, this one lacks sophistication. Yet it possesses eloquence and empowers.
When most organizations develop a mission statement, they spend months or even years creating the perfect blend of sentiment, intention, and promise, often presenting it with polished prose. The result is added to the employee handbook, printed on marketing pieces, and hung on a plaque in the lobby. In reality, many of these are not mission statements at all, but often amount to nothing more than thinly disguised marketing.
An effective mission statement has several important characteristics:
- It needs to be readily understood by those it applies to.
- It needs to provide direction and guidance in everyday decision making.
- It needs to be concise, allowing all stakeholders to learn it, follow it, and internalize it.
Unfortunately, most organizations’ mission statements do not fit any of these criteria. The Blues Brothers’ mission does. Each time they share it, everyone understands it; it provides direction, and it is easily learned, followed, and internalized.
Still their mission seems trivial. This is because behind every mission, there is a supporting vision. The vision of the Blues Brothers is to raise money to save the orphanage that raised them and has now fallen on hard times. This vision is why their mission is so important. The mission is not the end, but rather a means to the end: saving the orphanage.
Mission and vision, however, aren’t enough. Just as the mission is supported by a vision, the vision is deployed through goals. The goals of the Blues Brothers are simple: contact former and prospective band members, get them to join the group, hold a benefit concert, and give the money to the orphanage.
Therefore, the Blues Brothers’ business plan looks like this:
Mission: Put the band back together
Vision: Save the orphanage
- Contact musicians
- Form group
- Hold concert
- Give proceeds to orphanage
Now it’s time for some introspection. Does your organization have a mission? A vision? What are your goals? If you don’t have a mission statement, now is the time to develop one. Start today; don’t delay. Make sure your staff is supported by and directed through a practical mission statement; don’t let them flounder. Remember the wise saying, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
If you already have a mission statement, is it the hang-on-the-wall, marketing-ploy type or the succinctly worded axiom that directs daily actions and guides decisions? Maybe your stated purpose is a real mission statement. If so, is it short enough for your staff to learn, follow, and internalize? Is it readily understood? Does it serve as a guide for daily decisions and actions?
The conventional wisdom is that creating a mission and forming a vision is a group activity, something done by a committee, with input and review throughout the organization. This is done to get the buy-in of all stakeholders. Yet the reality is that when a mission is developed this way, it becomes less relevant as turnover occurs. After a few years, the statement becomes increasingly meaningless; then a new committee meets to create a different declaration.
This approach is the wrong. Yes, you do need to have the support of the rank and file for your mission, but its origin must be from leadership. The mission must come from the top. Then it needs to be communicated, not once, not from time-to-time, but frequently and repeatedly. Over time it will be embraced by those it’s intended to support. In due time, it will become understood and internalized. Coming from leadership and supported by management, it will begin to permeate the entire organization, directing actions and guiding decisions. With this as the expected outcome, make your mission statement your top priority; your future may be at stake.
What’s your mission?
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author on a mission to change the world one word at a time.