How often have you heard the expression, “A man on a mission”? The implication is that this is a man possessed, singularly focused, don’t get in his way! Imagine the effectiveness of a workforce on a mission. The fundamental principle is that ‘why’ you’re doing something gives not only motivation but also governance to how and when you do it, who should be responsible for it and what strategies are appropriate to achieve it. Whether you’re writing a report, preparing for a meeting or planning a holiday, ‘why’ is the rudder to your ship.
Lets take the most frivolous example, the holiday. Are you thinking ahead to your next holiday? So you want to get away, why? Is it to have an adventure, to see something you haven’t seen before? Is it to relax and recharge your batteries? Is it to visit friends or family? Is it to spend some time away from your father in law? Is it to meet new people? How much easier is it to plan what to do when you know exactly why you’re doing it?
A participant at a recent project management training course was challenged to write a mission statement for her project. In most cases participants choose work related projects but in this case the project under the microscope was to move house. I asked her, “Why do you want to move house?”. “We’d like more room” she replied. The conversation went on:
facilitator (me): “Have you considered extending?”
participant: “Oh no, we want to move”
There was a moment’s silence. Apparently there was an issue with the slope of their current block and the neighbourhood in general so while the need for more room may have been relevant, it was not driving the desire to move. I was quite sure that there was going to be an argument when she got home that night but when they eventually chose a new home it would be a good choice because they’d addressed why they want to move before choosing what to look for.
Consider a meeting agenda item: ‘The finance report’. What’s going to happen at the meeting when you get to that agenda item? It turns out that not everyone has read the report so is someone going to read it out loud? If you have a half dozen executives in the room then the meeting is costing the company in the order of $1000 per hour! Ask yourself why is ‘the finance report’ an agenda item? Is it because it needs the endorsement of the forum? If so the agenda item should read ‘endorsement of finance report’. In order to do so, the finance report will need to be distributed in advance, areas of potential contention should be solicited, in advance so that at the minuted meeting, they can be acknowledged and the forum response recorded.
Tragically in business, so often mission statements are used to adorn the walls of boardrooms and little more. The mission statement should pertain to every employee’s every working moment.
This is not a good mission statement:
G.M. is a multinational corporation engaged in socially responsible operations worldwide. It is dedicated to provide products and services of such quality that our customers will receive superior value while our employees and business partners will share in our success and our stock-holders will receive a sustained superior return on their investment.”
It’s not a good mission statement because it’s too long and convoluted to be resonant in the minds of all employees. It includes much which might be true of G.M. but doesn’t apply to why G.M. exists. Being ‘a multinational corporation’ is a boast. It has little to do with purpose. ‘Engaged in socially responsible operations’ is a statement about G.M.’s values, not purpose. ‘..dedicated to provide products and services of such quality that our customers will receive superior value’ is a strategic marketing decision not a statement of purpose. At the end we have, ‘…our stock-holders will receive a sustained superior return on their investment’ and there we have it. G.M. exists to make money. In that context, the products and services are part of the business strategies to maximise profitability. Whether you choose to wash cars or make cars of ‘superior value’ is the ‘how’. To make money is the ‘why’.
Now to get the perfect mission statement ask yourself, how can I engage my workforce in the pursuit of making money? What is the catch phrase/war cry that will involve and engage every employer from the CEO to the domestic staff? If you can do that, then instead of a reluctant workforce you will have an unstoppable army. To make it work you may have to think about how you structure and manage your company, and there you have mission in action.
In the book “What they didn’t tell you about project management in class” I talk more about techniques in writing mission statements. Your mission is your compass. Without a good mission statement your journey has no clear direction. If you find your self wondering what to do, shift your thinking. Ask yourself ‘why’ you need to do something. If you can clarify that, then the ‘what to do’ options will present themselves.