You may remember the mission and vision statement craze of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was another fad in the long line of management fads. So, you might also be thinking that it was a waste of time and the answer to the question posed is “No” they don’t matter. Indeed, if the mission and vision statements are empty words on the company walls then they are a waste of time, and worse can cause cynicism among the workforce. In addition, business researchers and writers focusing solely on “differences” have noted that both high and low performing organization have mission and vision statements. There are two problems with their conclusions. First, the mere existence of mission and vision statements, regardless of quality and use, is not an indication of their value. Second, focusing on only the differences between high and low performers results in a list of characteristics that do not include the elements that are common to both types BUT are essential to performance. Effective mission and vision statements “compel” the organization toward a better future.
The second component in the leadership system is a Compelling Directive consisting of the organization’s mission, vision, and values. As one CEO noted, “I think that people need a powerful purpose, and the leader has to be able to communicate that power, there is a purpose in what you’re doing, and you’ve got to give people a reason for being. That’s number one.” A compelling directive is the “bridge” between the stakeholders and the strategy. The needs of the stakeholders drive the content of the compelling directive which then drives the strategy. The vision element of the compelling directive describes the “desired” reality. A compelling desired reality combined with an understanding of the current reality (e.g., stakeholder feedback) creates tension and energy for change. As another CEO in our research noted, “you can’t people to a place they can’t see.”
What does the organization want to become? What is the “desired reality” that provides the direction and the “pulling” force necessary to move the organization forward? The three components of a complete vision address the needs of the multiple stakeholders.
- Products & Services – A vision provides a picture of the “ideal” products and services or the value that the organization will create for the customers or primary beneficiaries.
- Culture – What are the stated and desired values, behavior standards, cultural norms, and philosophy of doing business? A vision also provides a description of the desired culture as expressed in the organization’s heroes, symbols, and rituals that the organization would ultimately like to embody.
- Individuals – Finally, a vision addresses the value for the multiple stakeholders and what it is like for the individual internal and external stakeholders to interact with the organization.
But does it matter if the organization’s vision statement addresses all the trilogy elements? That depends on how the vision is developed and used to influence decisions, strategies, and behavior in the organization. An effective vision statement is inspirational and provides a sense of purpose, is timeless, and provides decision-making criteria for all those instances not covered in the company policy manual that no one reads anyway. Ultimately, the compelling directive guides the organization’s strategy (goals and objectives) which, in turn, direct all plans and activities toward a specific end.
Does Your Organization’s Compelling Directive Matter?
That depends on leadership. Ask yourself the following questions to assess your organization’s leadership related to the compelling directive.
- Our leaders’ behavior, communication, and activities are aligned with and continuously reinforce the compelling directive.
- Our leaders developed a compelling directive that includes building “win-win” relationships with multiple stakeholders.
- Our leaders involve key stakeholders in the development of the mission, vision, and values of the organization.
- Our leaders regularly and effectively communicate the compelling directive (mission, vision, values) to the multiple stakeholders.
- Our leaders are persistent in communicating and reinforcing the desired reality and culture change.
- Our leaders hold people accountable for progress toward the compelling directive and desired reality.
- Our leaders have developed a compelling directive that focuses on the sustainable success of the entire organization system.
- Our leaders engage people at all levels in discussion and translation of the compelling directive.
- Our leaders regularly reflect on and revise the compelling directive, so that gives meaning and passion to people.
So, the question really isn’t whether mission and vision statements in general matter. The question is does your mission and vision matter to your organization. And, that depends on your answers to the questions above. The benefit of an effective, compelling directive to the focused strategy is it helps leaders decide on the priorities AND maybe most important it helps leaders say “NO” to those initiatives that are not essential to the mission and vision. In the next article, we will explore the next component in the leadership system – the focused strategy.
Enjoy the journey!