Tag Archives: Statements

Are you on a Mission Statement, Part Two

Part One was simple. Sometimes there is more enthusiasm for writing a great mission statement than passion for actually achieving anything of substance. Without real purpose—without actually being on a mission—you’re probably just another run-of-the-mill brand at the mercy of the simplest competitive forces.

So if Part One is about a lack of real conviction to something greater, Part Two is about too much. So much passion, in fact, that the clear purpose of the organization is lost in translation. This time, ‘Are you on a Mission Statement’ is about the consequence of living your mission in passionate isolation.

Very often—and perhaps more so in the social change community—organizations use their mission statement to show heightened conviction and sophistication. Eloquent mission statements are a strategic badge of honour—rising above the riff-raff and outpacing their peers—elevating the organization above anything conventional or corporate. Mission statements become a passion filled, jargon laced, verbal vomit of words peppered with a secret code of industry rhetoric. Only those who already share in the passion and knowledge will even remotely understand the purpose, let alone its capacity to deliver on the promise. People are so deeply entrenched in their passion they are only preaching to the converted; anything less feels too pedestrian.

A good Mission Statement is not just for us; a mission statement should help everyone else understand what to expect. No one should hear your mission statement and think, “…so what do you actually do?”

If people are still unclear about what your organization does—the tangible value it brings—upon hearing your mission statement, then it’s time to let go of the words and dig back into the purpose.

A good mission statement—an effective statement—should be inspirational, of course. More importantly, though, it should also be clear, persuasive, and action-oriented. A good mission statement should provide outsiders—yes, outsiders—with enough information to be motivated to support your cause. They should want to join with you (or be competitively concerned about your arrival), be clear on what will probably come next, and how they can be part of that success.

It’s easy to get excited about mission statements, especially when the mission is something deeply important. The mission statement is a cultural and communication anchor—an vitally important part of any strong brand strategy. But it is just a tool to use—it’s of no value if it doesn’t first inform and persuade.

A great mission should inspire a great Brand Strategy. A great mission statement should simply inform people of your mission.

For a strong brand, let’s define our values early.

Our organization is going to hire people as it grows. These new people will likely be very skilled and talented, and shortly they will become an integral part of our team. They’re given responsibility, and they make tough decisions that help our business. Some of these decisions have deep implications on the future success of our organization.

The decisions every one of our employees make reflect the values of our organization. No exceptions. When the organization is just beginning, it’s easy to push the task of ‘defining core values’ off to the side as a time-consuming and irrelevant exercise. After all, we probably feel pretty strongly connected to these people in the excited glow of a start-up. We’re probably confident that we’re all on the same page, values-wise, when it comes to making tough decisions. Taking the time to define core values—behaviours that will drive our competitive advantage—feels like a bit of a fluffy exercise when there is real work to be done.

And we all know that a corporate retreat to define (or redefine) an organization’s Core Values is also very common. Everyone does these retreats, we observe, so obviously it’s okay to wait until we really need to define this one detail. Maybe in a few months; possibly next year. It won’t hurt, really.

If we wait until we feel the strategic need to define our values, it is too late.

If we wait until our team is 10, 30 or 80 people before we take the time to define our values—the behaviours that drive the culture of our organization—we may discover that some of those awesome staff don’t quite fit. In fact, it’s probably now an issue because there is a conflict, and now we feel the pressure of dysfunction. So now we have a very tough choice; define broad reaching values that have no impact, keep everyone employed and regularly compromise on our stated values, or fire those who don’t fit.

Broad reaching values are effectively ignored. Values so wide-reaching in scope or obvious in intent that any action can be manipulated to fit are uninspiring and weak. Be clear on this: if our values don’t stand for something compelling, our brand is simply irrelevant.

Compromising on our stated values is ill-advised. Values define the culture of the organization, and our culture is how we attract and retain top talent; it’s is how people choose our brand over our competitor. If we only refer to our values when it suits us—if we only stand for something when it’s easy and popular but cave when the going gets tough—then people question our integrity and our commitment to our vision.

Telling an employee that they no longer fit the culture of the organization is tough. Terminating them as a result is tougher (and potentially illegal). But if their natural instincts—remember, core values are non-negotiable behaviours and our default actions when things get tough—conflict with what we promise to customers—all stakeholders, in fact—we are simply weakening our brand, and any value it adds to our organization, if we keep them employed.

If we decide that generosity is important and a value for our culture, we are going to need to be sure the rock-star accountant who approves and holds us to our budgets agrees. We need everyone on board to connect the dots between philanthropy and profitability.

If we believe that an open-door policy is the best way to create trust between leaders and their teams, we need to ensure every leader respects this style, and thrives within it.

If we believe in a healthy work-life balance, we need to plan accordingly and respect choices even when deadlines loom, timelines collide and schedules don’t quite overlap.

Our culture is the pool of values shared, embraced, accepted and rewarded among all of our team. Our culture is how values show up and support the goals and vision of the organization. Strong brands hire and retain people based on well defined and authentic values,  and those values actively and subconsciously permeate all aspects of the brand.

Strong brands defined their core values at the very beginning. 

Understanding Vision, Mission and Values.

The best vision, mission or values statements are the ones that work for you. The best ones answer the right questions, without confusing anyone.

Many branding experts are happy to share a ‘best practice’ format—a template for crafting the perfect Vision, Mission and Values statements. (No more than eight words; keep it to three sentences; must include “To be the…” and then list an audience and region; narrow it to only three values; one single phrase to capture your essence; etc…)

Style doesn’t lead to substance, nor does a focus on style inspire real meaning. Instead of trying to fit into a predetermined format, I suggest the only requirement for your statements is that they work for you and the people who share your passion.

That’s not to say the meaning of these statements isn’t important to your organization. Each one serves a critical function of your strategy, anchoring your brand and framing a community of support. But instead of a preferred style, let’s understand why each one works, why they work together, and what you need to know before you wordsmith your way into success.

Vision—This is your purpose beyond profit. It’s a simple statement that describes a better world as you want to see it. The best ones are something that you can achieve today, and continue to aspire towards tomorrow—both attainable and aspirational every day. Your vision is why you exist.

Your vision statement captures the deeper human motivation—the reason you get out of bed every day—and it inspires people to act. Let your vision be unreasonable but not unrealistic. Let the competition be intimidated by your authentic ambition. Let people dream.  

Mission—This is the plan for how you will achieve your vision. Your mission is a call to action. Some reference to a business model would be appropriate. You need not include every detail—it will only handcuff you later—but it’s through your mission statement that people will be able to understand how they are going to share your vision with you.

Be bold and be a leader. Make no compromises in your conviction to your cause, and your belief that this is how you will achieve your vision. Be clear with you plan and your actions. Don’t hide behind ambiguity or catch phrases—this is where people are going to decide if they share your passions and support your cause.

Values—These are the benchmarks of behaviour that will guide your decisions. The best ones are options—behaviours that have an acceptable alternative—so that people can understand their choice to align with your brand vs your competition. Your values should inspire pride, conviction and confidence.

Your values are non-negotiable. Your values are characteristics that you will defend, even when it might be to your competitive disadvantage, because to compromise your values would be a contradiction to everything you believe is important. (I need you to really think about that, because the values that you claim to hold true may come under fire—from shareholders, customers, or the community—and you will have to defend your beliefs. If you give in, even once, it’s not really a value, and they will question everything you stand for.)

Your vision motivates people involved; it’s why you exist. Your mission is the activity people share; it’s how you promise to pursue your vision. Your values guide your behaviour and the behaviour of those who share your mission;  it’s a commitment to stakeholders.

With these statements you’ve answered everything; why; what & where; and how. (‘Who” and “when”—you and now—should be implied. If they aren’t, these statements are not your biggest worry.)

How you choose to articulate these is entirely up to you. You’re the one who needs to connect your organization with your stakeholders. It doesn’t matter if it takes a single sentence mission statement that is clear and bold, or if you need a couple of sentences to effectively make your point.

Like any strategist, I have style preferences for statements that work for me. But if your version breaks from conventional standards yet honestly inspires, motivates and guides your stakeholders—all your stakeholders—you’re on the right track.

If you want to add a brand mantra and a brand essence and a brand statement, or any other ‘theme-du-jour’—and it makes sense to you—have fun with it. Sometimes these are helpful in communicating with different audiences. These tactics aren’t wrong if they add value; but just be sure of the value they add.

Vision Mission and Values are at the foundation of your Brand Strategy. You may notice that nowhere in this list is a reference to your competitors. Do not build your brand story in the context of competition. Build it for your own success, answering only to your passion and your vision, and leave the competitive points for messaging later on.

Update: Read more at “Are you on a Mission Statement”.

You’ll miss your Mission when it’s gone.

A few weeks ago I was challenged to defend the need for Vision, Mission or Value statements for organizations. Since I believe such statements—or at least the context that supports them—are fundamental to any organization, I’ll admit the simplicity of the question caught me off guard.

Their argument is as follows: “How is a statement supposed to change or guide my behaviour? It is silly to think that a frivolous collection of words would somehow inspire me to do better—or do different things—than I currently do. I know my job and my goals; a fluffy mission statement doesn’t affect it at all! A mission statement absolutely doesn’t make a difference, ever.”

The tone was confrontational, and their reluctance to listen to reason bordered on disrespectful. I’ve heard it before, but this time it also got me thinking.

His cynicism had me questioning the deeper value of the work I believe is important. Are Vision, Mission and Value statements so vital to the success of an organization that the absence of such statements would be noticed, or have a negative impact? Is there a risk for an organization to ignore the process of defining clear, compelling and authentic statements—an often difficult process—and conduct business anyway?

Let’s be clear; this person was exceptionally skilled at their profession, and very likely considered an asset to the large organization. Though retired now, they performed their job honourably for decades. The organization was successful during their career, and had been successful for decades before they arrived. This wasn’t a bitter employee simply being critical of management activity.

To show the value of Vision, Mission and Value statements I often tell stories of successful, famous brands—the classic stories that all brand strategy people tell—such as Disney, Starbucks, Apple, etc, and how a shared connection to something more important than cartoons, coffee or computers was actually the driving force behind their success. It’s relatively easy to anchor the brand in a statement, and then fast forward a few dozen years and see the messages, concepts and choices that prove the point.

It’s much harder to show stories of failed brands, and link their failure to a lack of a cohesive, shared purpose.  Until now, I didn’t have any examples of failure in action; the inconceivable crumbling of something iconic and powerful linked directly to a breakdown of the Vision, Mission and Values.

The recent op-ed in the NYTimes from Greg Smith, an employee of Goldman Sachs on his last day of work, has sparked a storm of comments. His claim is clear: Leadership at Goldman Sachs is no longer connected to the mission as he understood it when he started 12 years earlier.

According to Greg, the true values of the organization—the behaviours that get rewarded, recognized and supported—are not aligned with what the company claims. Worse, the things that get rewarded are in conflict with their promise to their customers.

Vision, Mission and Value statements are how every stakeholder can hold an organization—and especially leadership—accountable for delivering the brand as promised.

Anchoring organization’s culture, the statements are non-negotiable—invincible to market pressures, timely promotional slogans or even changes in leadership—because they represent the core beliefs and choices that hold everyone together. Vision, Mission and Value statements, in whatever form, define an organization’s culture, rooting a shared trust that such behaviours and focus will drive mutual success.

From the organization’s culture comes activities and communications to engage people. From the culture emerges relevant products or services or experiences or ideas that people align with and desire. From the culture rises a legacy that transcends one person, creating a community to carry forward new ideas, all in service of the shared vision.

A breakdown in the culture of the organization—being disconnected from a shared purpose beyond profit—is the first sign of failure. Trust in leadership fades, and survival instincts kick in. (Justin Fox with HBR writes an interesting analysis of what happened with Goldman Sachs. Creating shareholder value replaces creating customer value.)

Trust is at the foundation of any successful organization; trust in your team; trust between you and those you serve; trust in the community; trust in mutual success; trust that everyone shares and supports the same values.

Leadership’s role is to give people a cause to believe in, and give them permission—to trust them—to advance that cause. Vision, Mission and Value statements are the touchstone of trust.

You may not care about having the statements, but you’ll miss the trust when it’s gone.

Who are you?

Every product, company, or cause has a name. The name is the one single feature that will last the entire lifetime of the brand, and in the world of branding, naming is good business.

Organizations that need a name want a great one, and when they come to me they believe their best chance is to hire a professional to take on the challenging task. After naming dozens of products and companies, I can tell you the toughest part of the process doesn’t rest with me.

The secret to a great name is courage. Your courage. The courage to recognize the potential in a good word; the courage to ignore silly criticisms during the selection process; and the courage to introduce it to the world with conviction.

Most people won’t have the courage to know a good name option when it is presented raw. That’s right; raw. With no history to back it up; with no cultural familiarity to make it part of our common language. It starts as just a word on a page. Raw.

Excellence in naming is hard, and inspiration for some of the most famous brand names have very different origins. Unfortunately there isn’t one proven formula for success, a situation that only makes the process more complicated for the uninitiated.

Naming is not an exercise in excellent creativity. It’s not a magical guessing game where the perfect word somehow looks better than all the other ideas. It’s next to impossible to come up with a great name; instead, select a good name—a name that helps introduce an interesting story and supports the strategy—and then make the effort to make it great! That’s what everyone else did.

There are tools that support the creative process—from brainstorming concepts to testing the best choices—and I am not suggesting anyone ignore rational discussion on the strategic value of a name. All I ask is that you enter the process with courage and an open mind. The right word will be there, and when you know who you are, you will pick a good name that you can make great.

True values are a choice.

Being in the business of understanding and defining the cultures that drive organizations, I always take particular interest in what companies state as their “core values”.

I know organizations spend a considerable amount of time defining and articulating values that they hold true. In fact, it’s not rare to hear that a company has spent 12 months or more working through these values, often following long retreats or creative working sessions. Company leaders emerge with a list of words or phrases that are intended to anchor the culture of the organization and inspire their teams. Words like Service, Integrity and Quality flow forth. The marketing department gets excited while the rest of the company reads the list–and goes back to work.

And for the most part, the values are true. In fact, why wouldn’t they be?

Repeatedly going through this process I have come to realize that there are some universal truths in almost any organization. These truths can feel powerful in light of the chaos that we typically experience. But as statements of purpose—the very definition of the organization’s culture—there are some values that are essentially the basis of normal business practices.

Consider the following and very familiar list of corporate values; Integrity / Honesty; Service; Innovation; People; Quality.

On the surface, these values are important. It is only in our jaded and critical mindset that we can hear these as values and assume that they offer any differentiation. But when we look deeper we realize just how hollow these values are at accurately defining a culture.

Hollow not because they aren’t important or lack authenticity; they are hollow because they should be assumed. These values aren’t really a choice. There is no realistic alternative. By simply existing one would expect any organization to have such values, and a contrary position would be unacceptable, or worse; illegal. To make my point, consider values that contradict these;

Integrity / Honesty = Dishonesty. No business would ever claim that dishonesty is a value that they hold dear. Service = Disconnection. No business could ever succeed if it aspired to ignore its customers. Innovation = Stale. No business would ever claim to not look for new products, standards or opportunities. People = No Conscience. No business could succeed if it claimed to treat its employees with the ruthlessness of a machine. Quality = Inconsistency. No business would ever claim that a shoddy product is their goal.

We quickly realize that EVERY organization holds a set of values that are simply part of operating a business. Or being a not for profit, or a social cause, or a service agency, etc… Imagine what would happen if a company said that honesty wasn’t one of its values? Seriously—think about it.

For a stated value to have any real meaning to an organization, it must have an alternative that would be equally valued for someone else.

Stated values are what the company has put forward as the most important characteristics of the organization. They define the culture and the expectations of leadership. Companies put core value out front for employees and customers to share and understand.

So what else can we define? Where can we make choices that will define us? Social values; Political values; Environmental values; Financial values; Cultural values. What are the benchmarks for success and appropriate behaviour in your organization? These values are the ones that people get excited about.

I call these values Drivers, and they are powerful.

Why are they so powerful? Well, first of all they are a choice. Drivers convey a particular attitude that allows—or rather encourages—your company to remain distinct and competitive. Secondly, they generally have an equally valuable contradiction. This contradiction is what allows people to truly understand and align themselves with the brand. And finally—and most importantly—these values are the behaviours that your organization will demonstrate when the going gets tough. When put to the test, your true drivers are your instincts, and you will always live up to these expectations.

Consider a personal example. One of my core values is Laughter. I am lucky enough to work in a creative field that gets away with exploring absurdity at times, and a healthy dose of laughter is not only good, I believe it actually makes the work better. I take my client’s challenges very seriously, but we can share a laugh and still get great work done.

I have met potential clients who aren’t as impressed with life’s quirkiness. They view the nuances of business a little more seriously than I feel comfortable with, and we don’t connect. Frankly, I am okay with that, because I choose not to work with someone who won’t take a moment to laugh. It’s their choice, and plenty of businesses survive without a daily giggle. However, for me it’s not a good project. And it’s not worth it.

Values without valid contradictions have no merit.

So what are your Drivers? What gets you out of bed everyday and what is it that pulls all of your team together? What is it about your organization that truly aligns your stakeholders? I challenge you to examine the values you have defined against the question of options.

Be comfortable in the common values every company shares, but challenge yourself (and your team) to uncover and articulate a deeper motivation. Be proud of your choices, and never compromise.

Are you on a mission statement?

Most companies have mission statements. Some are inspirational, some are mediocre, and a few are utterly pointless. Most are carefully worded statements aimed to capture the activities of the organization in a concise way.

My work brings me face to face with mission statements (and vision statements, and values statements, and mantras, etc…) all the time. Such statements are important for setting a solid foundation for a brand, but too many leaders mistake having a mission statement with actually being on a mission.

Do you get the difference?

Take a moment and dig deep down. Are you truly on a mission? Are you really compelled in the core of your being to pursue the activities of your organization in pursuit of something bigger than just a transaction?

The statement isn’t really the important part. The important part is to understand the mission that you are on, regardless of how you articulate it for everyone else. The important part is that you are doing something that is meaningful to you. Something non-negotiable. Something worth doing.

Too often leaders spend more time debating the wording of the mission statement than they do exploring and confronting their true motivations for action. The effort is based more on sounding valuable rather than being authentic, while not offending anyone and trying to inspire everyone. Instead of being on a mission, organizations end up being on a mission statement. And we all know how well that works.

This is why most mission statements fall flat when shared, even with people who align closely with the organization.

When we think of brands that capture our imagination and thrive, from famous brands to local community brands, it becomes clear that these brands represent the few leaders that are actually on a mission. These leaders have a purpose beyond profit, and they are compelled to act on it. Their mission statement—the collection of words that articulate their mission for everyone else—is really just a simple way to share the their plan with others.

Having a mission statement without being on a mission is the equivalent of having a mug with “World’s Greatest Dad” written on it. It’s not the mug that makes you a great dad, and you can be a great dad without the mug.

You don’t need a mission statement; you need to be on a mission.