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Mission: Unconfidential

Purpose of a Mission

Organizations, teams, and even individuals and communities often have a mission.  In essence, a mission is a purpose, a reason for being.  With a clear and well-understood mission, it becomes possible to understand what goals, activities, and resources are necessary.  Without a mission, members lack a common ground to understand boundaries or decide which actions would move the organization, team, or self forward and use resources efficiently.  Even strategy consultants–whose focus is on assisting organizations with mission, vision, and strategy–have difficulty setting missions for their own organizations.  Below are a few examples of how organizations turned to “mission” to solve problems.

Recently, I experienced working with three organizations all struggling to set a clear plan for the future, because the mission was not clearly stated, was not understood, or was not even written anywhere.  All three organizations are in the field of consulting; I am on the board for two of these small non-profits and working with a newly-formed working group at the third.

For the non-profit boards of directors, we are in the midst of strategizing long-term plans, but the missions lack clarity.  For one, the mission statement is not posted for members or leaders to reference, and board members recently struggled to make a critical decision related to a strategic initiative.  We became stuck in our discussion without hope for resolution.  How should we focus our resources?  How should we design our structure?  What should we offer to our members?  These questions and more stemmed from our lack of a clear mission.

In the second non-profit, we are writing a one-year plan, but data from interviews and surveys reveal that members and leaders alike are unclear of the organization’s mission.  In order to determine how to spend our volunteer time and energy, it became evident that knowing the boundaries–the mission–is the most crucial step.  We decided that we cannot assure that the planned member benefits would be optimal until we clarified our understanding of the mission statement.  Without a clear mission, it is noticeable from the data feedback, that current and prospective members struggle to determine whether they should spend money on member dues, because they do not understand the purpose of the organization.

At the third organization (a large consultancy), a new diversity & inclusion working group is forming a business case to secure investments of both financial resources and leadership support from executives.  To build the case, we realized the importance of setting the framework and boundaries of what we want to accomplish by drafting a mission statement.  From the mission, all other planning can align, including the long-term goals and action items.

Individuals, too, can form a mission to guide life decisions (both career and private).  A solid personal mission is both cure for even the slightest inkling of a purposeless life, and a compass during moments of confusion over which path to take next.

Benefits of a Useful Mission

Imagine you just received an acceptance letter to attend university for an undergraduate degree.  Without selecting a major, you could enroll into myriad courses for six or more years without earning a particular degree.  This is because universities typically offer many options for different subjects, and with so many choices, it is difficult to make focused decisions about which courses to take in order to earn a degree.

Now imagine that you have selected a major.  It becomes easy to determine which courses to select, ruling out the courses that do not fit the major.  With a clear purpose, you are on your way to graduating in four years!  In this example, selecting a major is analogous to selecting a mission for university studies.  The major guides your course-registration decisions in just the same way as a mission guides decisions within organizations.

A Gallup poll finds that employees working for organizations with mission statements that they believe are an important cause or purpose have higher engagement, increased pride in their work, and produce at higher rates (in Daft, 2011).  Additional critical benefits of a clear and useful mission, according to Bryson (2004) and Daft (2011), include:

  • Enabling discussions and decisions to focus on what is most important (Bryson, 2004);
  • Providing a judgment system to determine which structure is best, which resources to use, which strategy will succeed, and how to handle conflict;
  • Guiding actions that have a higher purpose, rather than self-serving ones; and
  • Building stronger teams using a common purpose (the mission) as a glue to bring people together (Daft, 2011).

Elements of a Strong Mission

Missions answer why the organization exists.  They establish a broad-level strategy and provide guiding principals, as Hodge, Anthony, and Gales (2003) write. To communicate the mission across the organization (staff, volunteers, managers, executives) and to outsiders (customers, prospective clients, the media, and others), a carefully crafted mission statement is vital.

While many organizations develop a catchy mission statement that sounds clever or witty, if it is ineffective in communicating the purpose of the organization, then it fails at its primary purpose.  Likewise, long and wordy mission statements could be confusing or turn people away from reading them.  Therefore, it is important to create a mission statement that catches attention, aligns with the organization’s culture, and explains the purpose clearly.  Culture is important here, because if the mission statement gives off a mood that misaligns with the mood of the culture, stakeholders will notice the mismatch and feel less inclined to use the mission as a guide.

What’s Your Mission?

Now that you have read about the importance of a mission, what is your mission?  What is your team’s or your organization’s mission?  If any of these missions is unclear, you likely struggle to make accurate decisions on how to set a budget, schedule staff, create a strategic or action plan, manage resources, or make appropriate life choices.

Take a few moments to think about your talents and your passions.  How can you utilize these strengths to form a personal mission for your life and career.  In your organization or team, a working group composed of representatives from different stakeholder groups also can consider the organization’s purpose, focusing on core strengths and opportunities.  Another approach is to consider the problem that the organization or team hopes to solve for society or its marketshare.

Share your mission by posting it below.  I am curious to hear what your purpose is!

References

Bryson, J. (2004).  Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement (3rd Ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Daft, R. (2011).  The leadership experience (5th Ed.).  Mason, OH: South-Western CENGAGE Learning.

Hodge, B., Anthony, W., & Gales, L. (2003).  Organization theory: A strategic approach (6th Ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.