Today there’s a lot of discussion about vision, mission and goals. In fact I see many companies investing loads of time, money and effort in coming up with their “mission statement.” Usually this is a few inspiring sentences that are placed on plaques to hang on the wall or printed on the back of business cards or put on the company web site. Yet I’ve got to say with few exceptions this often amounts to a big waste of time!
The fact is few of these mission statements accomplish what they were intended to do. That is “motivate employees to perform at a higher level.” Ironically, however, after a month or so not even the CEO, let alone the employees can even remember one word of the mission statement. So does this mean establishing a mission for your company is a useless task? Not necessarily. Yet in order to understand how to make mission planning a valuable tool we must first understand WHAT a “mission” is. In short a mission is a course of action that a company decides to pursue. It is the road they will travel in order to ensure they arrive at their ultimate destination. It is their plan for achieving their vision. A mission is not something we say, it is something we do. Leaders of companies often make the mistake of developing their mission in the wrong way. They try to figure out what their mission is before they decide WHERE it is they want to go. Imagine trying to do this when going on a trip. Can you really plan HOW you’re going to get somewhere if you don’t know WHERE it is you want to end up? Remember the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland? Alice came to a fork in the road and asked the cat for his help. “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asked Alice. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. Isn’t the same true for us? As leaders we see our employees going in different directions or we’re just not able to maintain that consistent level of performance that others are achieving. Could it be because we are just a little unsure of precisely WHERE it is we want to get? Developing a mission is quite impossible until we establish a vision. A destination. We must be able to see it, feel it, smell it and taste it. This can NOT be accomplished by the employees or a consulting firm. While the vision should be shared by many, it MUST be totally owned by and burning in the heart of the leader of the company. Unless the CEO or UBC as I call them (Ultimate Big Cheese) is totally driven by their vision it will be meaningless in the arms of their employees. On the positive side however, I have noticed one thing that all great leaders seem to have in common. That is the ability to dream big dreams and create a powerful vision of the future. They seem to have the ability to imagine an ideal future well in advance of creating it. Your vision is an imaginary creation of the ideal life you would like to live, in every respect. You create it as an expression of the values you hold most dear. Brian Tracy says, “From the very day that you develop a clear vision for whom you are and where you are going in life, you begin to become a superior person, and soon you begin to accomplish superior results.” Here’s some advice on how you can develop vision for your company that will help to drive a sense of mission, improve performance and 1. Let your mind float freely – One of the great secrets of success is to “dream big dreams.” It is to let your mind float freely into the future and imagine that you have no limitations on what you can be, have or do. Imagine for the moment that you have all of the resources that you would ever need to achieve the highest goals to which you could ever aspire. Imagine you have all the time, money, people, contacts and intelligence that you could ask for to become everything that you could ever become. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream,” and what followed was a vision that changed a nation. That famous speech is a dramatic example of the power that can be generated by a person who communicates a compelling vision of the future. 2. Create your ideal future – Make a dream list. Let yourself fantasize. What would you like to do? Where would you like to go? What would you like to accomplish? And most of all, what kind of a person would you like to become? Since you attract into your life people and situations that are in harmony with the person you really are, what kind of attributes and qualities would you like to develop in yourself so that you can life the very best life you can imagine, surrounded by the kind of people you would most enjoy? John F. Kennedy did not live to see the achievement of his vision for NASA, but he set it in motion when he said, “By the end of the decade, we will put a man on the moon.” That night, when the moon came out, we could all look out the window and imagine. And when it came time to appropriate the enormous funds necessary to accomplish this vision, Congress did not hesitate. Why? Because this vision spoke powerfully to values Americans held dear: America as a pioneer and America as world leader. 3. Create a “shared vision” – I like to recommend a practical exercise to develop your organizational vision. By following this plan you may be better assured that the vision statement that is developed is a shared vision. Plan an uninterrupted time to work on the vision with your most key team members. At this meeting, take an hour to explore your vision. Agree on a rough time frame, say five to ten years. Ask people to think about the following questions: How do you want your community to be different? What role do you want your organization to play in your community? What will success look like? Then ask each group to come up with a metaphor for your organization, and to draw a picture of success: “Our organization is like: a mariachi band – all playing the same music together, or like a train – pulling important cargo and laying the track as we go, or “The value of metaphors is that people get to stretch their minds and experiment with different ways of thinking about what success means to them.” Finally, have everyone share their pictures of success with each other. One person should facilitate the discussion and help the group discuss what they mean and what they hope for. Look for areas of agreement, as well as different ideas that emerge. The goal is to find language and imagery that your organization’s members can relate to as their vision for success. 4. Caution: Do not try to write a vision statement with a group. (Groups are great for many things, but writing is not one of them!). Ask one or two people to try drafting a vision statement based on the group’s discussion, bring it back to the group, and revise it until you have something that your members can agree on and that your leaders share with enthusiasm. Only when you have a clear vision of the future that everyone is excited about can you begin working on the mission or path that you will take. Following this will be the goals or steps along the way. A clear vision will allow you as a leader to propel your company forward. It will make daily decision making far easier for every member of the organization. It will allow the organization to move initiatives forward with greater speed and agility. It will motivate a higher level of performance and commitment among your team. So don’t be afraid to DREAM BIG because no big thing was ever accomplished without some small person dreaming it first!