Wasting Time on Mission and Vision
“I think there’s so much time and effort wasted on setting forth mission statements and vision statements…” Karen Martin, author of, The Outstanding Organization.”
Compelling vision doesn’t cure sick organizations. Martin said, “Many organizations have these lofty visions and they can’t even deliver product to customers…”
Forget about it:
Martin said, “I’m a little cynical about the whole vision-mission when people can’t perform well and customers aren’t being satisfied.”
Sick organizations should forget about
changing the world and change themselves.
Aim low not high. Do less not more. The most important thing sick organizations do is get healthy.
“Being able to just get your work done successfully is a more important vision for an organization than … solving world hunger, for example, if they’re not able to perform at high levels, yet.” Karen Martin.
Martin’s book explains the path to health:
Clarity is the first step toward health. Ambiguity prolongs sickness.
Band-Aids don’t help broken arms. Diagnose the real problem. Prescriptions for misdiagnosed issues make matters worse.
Fuzzy problems don’t get solved. Name them! Misdiagnosed issues cause organizations to:
- Cure symptoms, not causes.
- Apply damaging solutions that don’t help.
- Waste resources.
- Offend sincere, talented employees by misdirecting their energy.
4 minutes with Karen Martin explaining health over vision:
“If the mission or vision doesn’t directly effect how [front-line people] are doing their work then it’s … pointless.”
Facebook contributors fill in the blank: Don’t focus on organizational vision if ______.
Dan ~ Interesting thoughts from Karen! I found myself being torn between two positions. On the one hand, I firmly believe in a compelling vision that has clarity of focus on the purpose of the organisation, which resonates with the workforce. On the other hand, I empathise with her views on curing sick organisations, as many abound.
I agree with her that clarity is the key starting point and what I guess organisations will find is that they have indulged in ‘mission ditch’ … in pursuit of money and corporate survival!
Great post that really made me think!
Thanks for your contribution. I didn’t post it but part of our conversation was about which comes first… vision or health. I’m a huge fan of the power of vision. That’s what made Karen’s approach so interesting to me.
Vision that resonates, instigates and energizes… However, if the organization is sick, everyone ends up wasting their energy because they can’t deliver on their dream.
I’m the same way – I latch onto vision first and foremost. But over time I’ve grown to see how the visionary leaders at the top of organization can create a lot of angst when they have huge gaps in other leadership areas. I wrote this post to try to address that: http://www.nathanmagnuson.com/first-do-no-harm/. I guess you are saying that vision/mission is important, just not at the expense of the rest?
You are right. Most of the organizations waste valuable time on making statement. Such statements are generally very appealing but also unrealistic to achieve. I agree that organization should make goal that can be achieved. Furthermore, they should also show that they have achieved the mission or target set. I would share some interesting news about mission and vision. Most of the organizations even do know the meaning while setting the mission and vision. I have also seen organizations putting sometimes mission first, sometimes vision first.
However, I have never seen organizations to declare that they have achieved their vision. I think somewhere, organizations should show that they have achieved their vision or mission.
I think mission should clarify the strategy, execution with deadlines.It should also clarify the role and responsibilities of various people in achieving it. Further it should be broken into different small objective with clarity.
I agree that clarity of mission should be first thing to make it executable. Secondly clarity of people specially management is even more important.
Thank you Ajay.
Your last sentence that focuses on people resonates with me. All the mission, strategy, vision, plans…etc. are meaningless without the people.
Some might argue that vision is never reached. It’s something we always aspire to do and mission is something we are doing.
Perhaps an organization could explain ways they are moving toward fulfilling their vision.
Mission and vision conversations often get murky because of definitions.
Too often vision and mission statements are made in order to check something off the “companies must have” to-do list. Perhaps they are busy work to make it look like something is being done to address company ills, instead of dealing with the real problem. It’s pretty hard to see clearly when the path is obscured by inefficiencies, low morale, offended employees, etc. My two cents … if it’s one or the other, get well first, then pull in the team to help create a vision.
Thank you Laurie.
Sadly, mission/vision work is often done at the top but the real wisdom is in the hands of the people on the line… 🙂
Good point that wisdom is “on the line”. However, wisdom is only valuable if it is utilized (in a group) for the common good or a focused goal. This is where mission/vision come into play and where top side focus is required. We’re only as good as those that work for us but those working for us are only productive if we have a common direction.
thanks for taking that one step further.. wisdom without implementation isn’t worth much… maybe it isn’t wise
Larry Crabb, a psychologist, delivered a speech entitled “You Can’t Change the World Until You Change.”
The message was: improve yourself first.
That goes for individuals, marriages (work on marriage first, then children), groups, sports teams (work on teamwork and fundamentals, then worry about opponent), and businesses.
Be selfish now so that later you can be unselfish.
Thank you Matt.
Reminds me of the Gandhi quote: Be the change.
Love your last sentence… put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help others.
Tough counterpoint, but truthful. I’m in first for well defined vision, but have experienced or studied enough organizations where the leader considered his new vision the “cure” for what ails the deeper organization, the misdiagnosis mentioned. The attitude becomes “I’ve contributed my part and we’re still not healthy, so you must not be doing your part,” which prolongs the ailment and adds frustration.
Powerful contribution filled with insight.
I’m so committed to the power of vision that I almost hate to put anything before it. YOu insight into blaming others is a real kick in the pants.
I’m hearing these sorts of comments disparaging vision and mission statements too often these days. They seem to come from an unfortunate misunderstanding of what the statements should really do. All organizations need to heal from time to time and the process is much easier when there is a common mission to refer to. The problem is, leadership often creates a mission statement that sounds good, or is spelled out in painful detail, but doesn’t really state why the organization exists and what it does.
Members of the organization must understand what they do to make the mission happen. Employees daily activities, and the goals that leaders are striving to reach must be tied to a overarching mission.
In fact, if everything the organization does is not tied to a well defined mission, that organization will never really heal. They’ll just go from one crises to the next.
Thank you Bob.
In the interview Karen advocated for purpose, much like you do.
Your contribution here is important in the whole scheme of things. Let’s not toss the baby out with the bath water.
About making your mission/vision clear and relevant (and I apologize for not providing a tiny url), here is a TED talk by Simon Sinek:
Many years ago when I worked for *Company*, we in HR spent a lot of time developing, launching, training all employees on the 9 *Company* Behaviours. The were integrated in our performance evaluations, in our candidate selection processes, in our succession planning. They were solid. (I can spontaneously remember 5 of the 9, and if I spend a few more minutes, I’m sure I can come up with all 9, that’s how powerful they were.)
One day, a very respected and charismatic VP gave an inspiring speech, and missed the opportunity to mention each of these 9 *Company* Behaviours. When I mentioned to him how he could have integrated them, he froze – you know, that deer-in-the-headlights look.
Mission / vision sucks when the front line is stuck trying to carry it out when executives don’t give it a second thought.
Thanks for your contribution, lmcaissie.
YOu remind me that leaders can’t talk too much about these important concerns.
thanks for the added resource.
Mission and Vision statements are usually a waste of time and money when upper management dictates the message without input from customers or front-line employees. They become dust collectors and the organization goes back to what it was doing before.
Francis Heshelbein put it this way, “Engage,engage, engage.”
Well, “A,” you certainly got right to the point. And I agree with you.
I’m not an executive management person — other than owning my own businesses at one time — most of my corporate business career has been spent in middle management. And from middle management on down, mission and vision statements are nothing more than words. I’ve worked for three corporations whose senior management took the time — LOTS of time — to develop mission and vision statements, plastered them all over the offices, made a big to-do about them, made a broad-stroke effort to sell the lower ranks on buying into them, then essentially ignored them.
Unless the company’s values and actions exemplify what they slap up on that mission statement, and unless the rank-and-file have a clear picture on how THEIR contributions help achieve a mission’s lofty objectives, it’s a waste of time and effort.
A very good blog & thought provoking too.
Vision & Mission statements will be useless if the top management does not demonstrate these lofty statements with action.
Are there any examples of any company ( medium to large) which do not have these Mission & Vision statements?
Thank you sure…
I’m not sure of examples of companies who don’t have these statements. However, there are plenty of examples of companies who have them but no one knows what they are… 🙂
Great Post Dan!
We all know the biggest river in Egypt is denial.
I have mentioned before I am a recovering person. 29 years in May. Do not say that to brag, just to know that when I talk about this stuff you would benefit from listening. When I write about this it is almost 29 years of success, not fancy smansy new words to describe exactly the same thing.
Step One…….admit you got a problem. Till the pain of not doing that people will continue the course of behavior they are on, period.
Step Two….understand on your own you mare screwed. It is YOU who got you is this place to start with. Get some wise and loving counsel, preferably from someone who has experience of getting out of the jam you find yourself in.
Step Three When you get that wise and loving counsel ACT ON IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
To recap HOW to solve a problem,
Honest……admit you are screwed silly, everyone else can see it, humble yourself and just admit what you are doing ain’t getting it done.
Open……to the suggestions you get from your WISER, LOVING friend. DUH. Don’t just telll them that sounds great but I am not doing THAT!!!!!!!!!! Do something different completely and break the cycle of resentment, re-sensing the same old crap over and over again. It does not matter how many times you go over it in your mind your story stays the same. Open your mind, works like a parachute, works better when you jump out of the plane if you OPEN IT!!!!!
Willing……….be willing to take action on the suggestions you get.
End with my favorite quote of all time!!!!! In tha AA Big Book and I keep telling ya’ll it is the best book ever written(my opinion but strongly felt) It is the best book on human relations ever written and I challenge all of you to read it and see it as a generic plan for living and see if it does not fit!
Quote:“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” Herbert Spencer
Thank you Scott.
Your opening sentence made me smile. Thanks for sharing your journey and insights. They are relevant to this topic.
Thank you Dan as always very appreciative of your kind words.
Forgot the mention the McDaddy!
I hope every gets to learn all about Edwards Demming.
Fascinating and brilliant and works!
We all know everything grows from the bottom up! DUH!
Demmings empowered the weakest link and the rest is history.
I am doing all I can everyday to use his 14 point plan.
Thanks again Dan.
Thanks for this post. There were some really good thoughts. And it caused me to pause and think.
I feel it’s a “both-and”. We need a continuous compelling vision. At the same time, we need to be drilling down to root issues that are kicking us off course from fulfilling our vision. It takes diligence, emotional fortitude, and a caring eye to keep vision and excellent health of an organization moving forward in a positive way.
I’ve often thought that strong vision is crucial to an organization’s success, however, if the people are not doing well, the vision and mission will suffer.
Thanks again, Dan!
Thank you David.
Great add. The idea that any organizational activity is a cure-all is miss guided. Things always change. Problem solving is constant. Adjustment is normal not the exception….
The both/and conversation on this topic is interesting to me. Sadly, I didn’t have time to pursue it with Karen.
Taking the organizational sickness to an extreme, I am reminded of the Lakota saying, “the best strategy when riding a dead horse, dismount.” All of the urging, lofty sayings, and kicks will not help a sick or ailing organization.
As others have noted, if you take care of yourself/your organization, then you can do more for others, but to do that involves some deep dish retrospection, perhaps a lengthy game of 5 whys. Drill down, deal with the root cause, then you can stitch up, band aid on, and get moving.
Sometimes the early stages of review are more palatable via outside consultants who should be as unbiased as possible. While it may be human nature to want to challenge external observations, own em, dig into them, find worth.
Once the symptoms or observations have been identified, command and control leadership tends to issue forth new policies and procedures. Edicts if you will. Which is about as effective as telling a staph infection to stop spreading.
An alternative is to tap into an often untapped resource, the people doing the work. They can show you what they do, they can show you what works, they can show you the wasted steps and they can probably suggest options…but you have to listen/hear, watch/see, ask and listen more…all of which involve respect and/or unconditional positive regard.
Thank you Doc.
KaPow! You hit your stride today.
I’m writing down the Lakota quote. I have a horse or two to dismount! I wondered why we weren’t making progress. 🙂
What a novel idea: engage the people doing the work. … I’ll add, engage the customers. Sometimes they see us better than anyone else, at least when it comes to the product we deliver.
Very well written and bold because though we all agree on the importance of vision and mission in our pursiut of this we undermined its value and importance.we forgot that that they are only a means to reach an end and not an end in itself.
Similar to Imcaissie, I too was converted from using mission & vision to the use of WHY after reading Simon Sinek’s book. Gino Wickman confirmed the importance of defining a 7-8 word WHY statement in his book TRACTION. Gino says a great WHY statement has 3-7 simple words, is Big & Bold, has an AHA! effect, comes from the heart, involves everyone, is NOT about money, and is bigger than a goal. An example is the Kahn Academy WHY: A free world-class education for anyone anywhere.
There is two sides to every coin -no doubt. I advise my clients of two critical facts. Those who lack vision are doomed to roam aimless and secondly, being really great at getting the wrongs things done fast -means roaming faster Vision is a path forward and in today’s world stand still too long and your competition will eat your lunch. The real test of your vision is your strategy road map. Developing good strategy must test your goals and eliminates weak meaningless ones..
Good Strategy has:
1) An outcome that is realizable
2) Is fact based -and can be validated and withstand open debate
3) Clearly identifies the problem / issues / obstacles to be solved
4) Solves the problem with a executable and measurable plan
No question a non actionable vision is an hallucination and a waste of time for sure. So fix it. Secondly, an organization needs both leaders and managers. Leaders facilitate the vision, while managers make it happen.
I really like what u wrote.
Dan, not that I need yet another book in my reading list, but you just added one. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful post and author with us.
I love your blog, the information is useful and you make me think. I understand your message.
As a musical conductor who teaches leaders to employ new paradigms in moving high performance teams into thinking and acting as an ensemble.
I agree that a vision is not a fix for dysfunction. The vision and mission are foundations for building a strong strategy for implementation. The same principle applies to the orchestra that applies to the team – there must be a plan to implement. The plan does not work independently of the leadership skills and systems that make it happen. The conductor as leader directly impacts the results with their leadership.
The culture of excellence must exist in order for the leader to be effective. The leader builds that culture. The two must work together or they are both compromised.
Get post. Thanks for prompting our thinking.
The Transformational Leadership Strategist
Ever study up on fractals? Pretty cool and some people make cool music with or about them. Cool art too!
Words on paper are mute until someone brings them to life with passion and commitment, and paper doesn’t create passion or commitment.
Just as there are very successful organizations (typically smaller ones, admittedly) which lack a written strategic plan, success is not prevented by the lack of a written vision or mission.
Vision, mission and strategy are all intellectual constructs assembled from a set of high level decisions about where leaders want to take the organization, how they intend to get there, and what priorities require their focus to do so. Whether these decisions are committed to paper and organized into categories of “vision” and “mission” is not particularly important. But it is vital that the leaders know where they want to go and how they want to get there.
No doubt, over time organizations without written intentions are more likely to get lost, particularly when there’s turnover in the executive suite. But it’s a big mistake to think that formal written statements are genuine expressions of true vision or a real sense of mission. Words on paper do nothing until someone brings them to life with passion and commitment.
Quick story that reminds me of this topic. A consultant was walking the hallway of a company where he had worked several days with senior leaders designing their vision and mission. A ‘seasoned’ employee came up to him and said, “You’re that guy who helped them write the stuff on the walls aren’t you!?” He replied that he was. “Well, sir, it may be on the walls, but it ain’t in the halls.”
It is a great way for me to remember that organizational health will not be improved without an authentic connection between the “words on the walls” and how people at all levels behave.
Good one, Jim. I experienced something similar with a client organization rolling out its new strategic plan to groups of first line managers. The new Mission included a phrase about “quality as a way of life”, and one wag asked for an amendment to make it more accurate, suggesting the slogan, “Quality – we write it on the side of our trucks”.
I, too, was torn when ready this post… I love visioning. It’s an effective way to get everyone on the same page, and revisited, it keeps people on track. And it just appeals to me. I am a vision board kind of person.
I find that working through a strategic planning process helps to clarify assumptions among team members.
But Karen is right — you can’t fix a broken company or department by visioning your way out of it. That’s a much deeper issue and it takes trust in speaking the truth, and then dealing with the tougher issues.
I can really relate to these 4 stages of ‘getting healthy’. In fact they remind me so much of the 4 As that I have used so much in working with business people on how to get effective problem solving and agreements reached with each other.
Clarity (is about Analysis – get your diagnosis of the problem right)
Focus (= Attention – unless people are focused then don’t move on)
Discipline (like Agreement – get agreement on there being a problem in the first place. agree something needs done and stick together on doing something about it)
Engagement.(= Action – once action is agreed then move decisively and in harmony to enact it)
Thank you for this post – it has brought an added dimension to my 4 As model and helped clarify it even further.
Rather than vision or mission I prefer a mobilizing mantra. I think a six word or less guiding principle is far better than either of the other two types of statements. A hospital chain I work with had one and it was “we give people their lives back.” Any individual in any department at anytime could ask themselves if what they were doing or thinking about doing would help give people their lives back. The answer would determine their next action. the entire organization was energized by this simple declarative sentence. And no, a mobilizing mantra it is not an advertising tag line.
The “mobilizing mantra” can be quite useful, and I have seen companies which have used them to good effect. However, few of them pack enough meaning to help people in the organization make decisions about what is “on target” in that business and what is off target. Many leaders I’ve worked with have wanted to write mission statements that have the memorability of Nike’s advertising slogan – “Just do it”. They love the call to action and the memorability of it. But most are unable to distill the business into a handful of words, as the hospital example you cited does.
I’ve helped organizations to write more than 200 mission statements. Among them are a handful of sparkling gems – statements that are short, accurate and inspiring to the people of the organization. More often, they’re longer and perhaps a little clumsy, but they accurately point the way for the organization. Years ago I facilitated mission writing sessions that lasted more than a day, but quickly decided that it was a waste of executive time since the extra hours virtually never produced a better product.
There are few Pulitzer-winning “teams”. Most inspirational phrases are crafted by individuals, and usually it doesn’t happen on cue in a planning session. When it does, great! But don’t bank on it.
Excelente artículo! y totalmente cierto. Solemos encontrarnos con muchas organizaciones que trabajan arduamente en la declaración de su misión y visión, las cuales quedan muy bien redactadas y enmarcadas en algunas partes de la empresa, pero en la realidad, la esencia de las mismas no se aplica en el trabajo cotidiano, con lo cual el trabajo realizado resulta en vano. En allí donde los que conocemos un poco más del tema debemos orientar a nuestros clientes.
Thanks for finally talking about >Wasting Time on Mission and Vision | Leadership
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