“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the road which lies ahead and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the road back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that one as well.” – Maya Angelou
I love the quote above for several reasons. It helps us understand and provide a framework for accountability to ourselves. It helps us begin to recognize our basic responsibility to continually make informed choices for everything that we do in life, always with a careful remembrance of our past learning as we establish our future course of action. Even to the extent that our future assumptions are incorrect we must take the required detour onto a new path. It’s also important to be committed to your path but not so over committed that you are inflexible to change when change is obviously necessary. There is a careful balance between passion and goal orientation that must continually be monitored and updated. Yes, you have to plan to plan and keep planning and don’t forget to plan for that which you can’t plan, the unknown.
In terms of mission, the natural question of responsibility smacks us right in the face. What is it really and who should be responsible for what? Who gives the benefit, who receives the benefit and who ultimately benefits? In other words, the relationship between provider, client and stakeholder should be firm and clear. What is each party to be responsible for and why? Without thinking through and codifying these kinds of ideas, an organization can be cast adrift on the sea of many undefined marketplaces with no home and no focus. My friend Laura Kowolski of Laughing Divas has a clear simple mission that drives her company and that is to “create love, peace, and joy”.
Excellent mission statements always accomplish the following objectives they:
- Design the very nature of commitment
- Create the gold standard
- Recruit and focus torch bearers
All of this raises the bar of effectiveness and promotes teamwork in a uniquely human way.
The Nature of Commitment
In order for there to be a real commitment to consistent movement and action within an organization or family, there needs to be a real statement of purpose. This statement must be easily understood and most importantly remembered as a top of mind concern. When your team members have to pull the mission statement out and read it whenever you refer to it, it’s NOT working. A good mission statement compels team members to simply memorize it but to align their actions accordingly always. It’s the living breathing pulse of an organization. Here’s one from my fraternity “Ours is a brotherhood that gives its best in the hour of need.”
True, not only does a great mission create a positive imagery it begins to highlight core values and principles. These principles and values should resound from the core of the organization in every movement and gesture. For instance, the expression above tells my fraternity members the importance of giving our best performance at all times because “the hour of need” is our each and every waking hour on this earth. We need to respect the work almost for the sake of the work itself because the job will never be done. Notice this is much different than goals which we’ll handle in a later discussion. “Mission” is about behavior, style, and direction.
You’ll also recognize how mission creates and maintains focus as it makes promises. These promises must be kept less the organization and its leaders are judged as ineffective or worse, irrelevant. The value is in the statement of trust the missions bring out. It tells us what we can trust you or your organization for. It shows everyone what drives your passion and energy. By doing so, it reinforces the “magic word” to all organizational dynamics. No, not please or thank you, the word is accountability! There are also unique problems to expect in mission planning.
Every mission should have a measure of fluidity in that it does not indicate a hardcore goal or process. This kind of absolute regulation must be articulated elsewhere in an organization’s goals and procedures. In fact, “mission” should allow for a level of creativity to adjust direction when needed without breaking upon itself. I remind you Dr. Angelou’s example above. Sometimes you’ll need to course correct on the way towards your vision and your mission statement should not be so rigid in focus as to cause a total meltdown in the changing of time.
The Gold Standard
Clearly a mission statement must drive every team member to ever deeper levels of commitment and show them the rewards that connect them to their own very hearts. It helps team members develop a sense of belonging and connectedness to the group as everyone begins to share the same standards of thinking.
Leaders learn from mission planning which behaviors are core to the organization’s effectiveness and can use mission statements to remind themselves and team members what “we” are all about. It starts to help them shape the ideas of about the solid important behaviors in an organization and to symbolize that behavior in meaningful ways. It informs leadership conversations and keeps management directives both conscious and unconscious in line with the core values of the group. Yes, good mission planning creates peace and harmony in an organization as everyone begins to “get it”. Everyone sees where “we” are going and what direction “we” are going.
If you ever pay close attention to behavior and rhetoric of great CEOs, over the years you will hear the same key phrases and observe the same behavior over and over again. It’s not because they haven’t grown or changed. It’s because the same mission based symbolic gestures are required to keep their organization focused on the goal. Any deviation can easily discredit the leader and create havoc amongst other leaders and managers which will eventually cause some form of organizational breakdown.
Find and Create Torch Bearers
Today it’s increasingly difficult to identify the real character of individuals. It seems that because our machinated process-obsessed society has opted to place more value on competence than it has in character it has damaged itself severely but not irreparably. Management can turn the tide quickly by paying unwavering attention consistently and regularly to “mission.” In fact, this is a sure fire method to inject character and competence back into an organization in a big way.
Every organization today runs on the most important fuel in the known world. Yes “people power” keeps the whole thing moving forward or not. It stands to reason that it’s easier to get the best out of people when they themselves value giving their best. Having said that, all we have to do, create the right synergy between recruiting and training. Then our people can stop worrying about retention and training cost overruns”¦simple, right? WRONG! Creating synergy within an organization that’s already broken is a Herculean expensive task! It can’t be done without a tremendous amount of pain. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!
Of course, I say that we all should begin with the end in mind and fix it before it’s broken. When you recruit your team from a well thought out mission it helps align your values to their’s instantly. Conversely, when you are in touch with your own deeply held values and beliefs it’s much easier to find organizations that will support you in a manner that works for you. But don’t take my word for it, go test this yourself. Ask an organization that you are considering working with to provide you with their mission statement. Better still ask the reception at the front desk to tell you what it is. If he or she begins to fumble around nervously in dusty drawers to find it you’ll know the whole story right then and there.
Mission-driven organizations wear their values and principles on their sleeves, so much so that each and every team member is in constant contact with the groups highest ideals. You can ask a former IBM employees to tell you the mission of big blue even after a twenty year separation and they will never miss the mark. Now that’s real indoctrination. Just yesterday I heard the tune of my college fight song and the lyrics came back to me as if twenty years ago were yesterday. And who could forget the words to the American Pledge of Allegiance as it speaks of personal commitment and intention towards high values and a moral code?
More than an external tool for indoctrination mission should help people find themselves or should I say remind them of their intrinsic value as human beings. You should ask your team members how they see themselves fitting into the mission of the organization. Get them to think outside of the basic job description mentality. Help them understand the synergy between who they are and what the group is. They’ll always respect you for helping them see where they fit in. They’ll even help you light the way for others.
It’s important to never take your personal or organization mission for granted. Refuse to move outside of it and review it regularly. I know that it’s easy to lose focus or to slack off exactly when a hard court press is needed, but stay resolved to fight hard and press on. You’ll see the results in the maturation of your own personal identity and the commitment of your teammates. You’ll experience the comfort of knowing who you are and what you’re about. You’ll define success in your own way and enjoy your just rewards.
Next time we’ll get even deeper into the idea of mission and the purposeful opportunities behind it as we explore how “Mission Really Focuses Objectives”. Feel free as usual to comment on any or all of the blog post. The Coach will be watching!