By Jane Logan
This article was first published
in The Canadian Association in March 2004.
Mission, vision and values are supposed to be the North Star of
strategic planning, the beacon by which organizations set their
strategic compasses and then align their everyday priority setting.
But lets face it, the prospect of attending a visioning session
is not always greeted with enthusiasm by the conscripts.
Weve all been there. Held captive in a windowless room, hallucinating
slowly from a) too much coffee; b) uncapped magic markers and c)
the glaring blankness of the flip charts. Weve wordsmithed
with a warring group of colleagues well beyond the point of caring.
The result is a mission statement that looked much like our last
one and like everyone elses. Or else weve crafted
a vision so lofty, outrageous, or abstract (save the world, conquer
) that seeds of doubt are planted before we leave
. Is this really worth the effort?
Persevere, the results are worth it
The development of well-written vision, mission and values statements
signals intent and direction, allowing employees the freedom to
put their own mark on implementation - an essential part of enthusiastic
execution and good governance. A periodic review of mission and
vision compels the Board of Directors to agree on the organizations
long-term direction, set a new course if required or to get the
organization back on track. Jim Collins makes a strong case in his
book Built to Last that embracing a vision is part of what separates
truly exceptional companies that have stood the test of time from
other companies. Of course its much more than coming up with
a catchy slogan.
Here is some advice for a successful start to framing your organizations
mission, vision and values. It takes perseverance, the courage to
set your own stamp on the results, and a desire to live the results
rather than tuck them away on a website and forget them.
Make sure the team shares the same definitions:
- Mission statements
- Describe the overall purpose of an organization: what we
do, who we do it for, and how and why we do it.
- Set the boundaries of the organizations current activities.
- Are the starting point in developing a strategic vision.
A mission review gets an organization back to basics. The essential
activity of determining whom you serve can be a wake-up call for
organizations that have started to skew their activities to meet
the needs other stakeholders (such as their funders or lobby targets)
and not their actual clients.
- Vision statements
- Describe an ideal future.
- Reflect the essence of an organizations mission and
- Answer the question, what impact do we want to have on society?
- Unite an organization in a common, coherent strategic direction.
- Convey a larger sense of organizational purpose, so that
employees see themselves as building a cathedral
rather than laying stones.
- Values statements
- Reflect the core ideology of an organization, the deeply
held values that do not change over time.
- Answer the question, how do we carry out our mission?
- Are the values your organization lives, breathes and reflects
in all its activities, not the ones you think you should have.
The Canadian Cancer Society
A great example
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national, community-based
organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication
of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people
living with cancer.
Creating a world where no Canadian fears cancer.
These serve as guidelines for our conduct and behaviour as
we work towards our vision.
- Quality our focus is on the people we serve (cancer
patients, their families, donors, and the public) and we
will strive for excellence through evaluation and continuous
- Caring we are committed to serving with empathy
- Integrity we are committed to act in an ethical,
- Respect we believe that all people should be treated
with consideration and dignity. We cherish diversity.
- Responsiveness we strive to be accessible, flexible,
transparent, and to demonstrate a sense of urgency in our
resolve and decision-making.
- Accountability we are committed to measuring, achieving
and reporting results, and to using donor dollars wisely.
- Teamwork we are committed to effective partnerships
between volunteers and staff, and we seek opportunities
to form alliances with other
To get the job done:
- Dont get hung up on semantics.
If a future-oriented mission statement works for your organization
as both mission and vision, go for it! The important thing is
to understand what you do (and dont do) and what you are
working towards. Gaining consensus on this and being able to communicate
it to stakeholders are huge achievements.
- Dont tie yourself in knots with wordsmithing.
Take the process as far as you can go, and then pick a group to
finalize your words based on the discussion. Your meeting time
is better spent moving forward than polishing after consensus
has been achieved.
- Consider developing three to five mini-visions instead of
a single vision statement.
These may be easier to develop than a single, perfect overarching
statement. Remember, its all about signalling intentions.
To ensure inspirational and practical results:
- Put mega into your mission and vision.
What kind of world are you helping to create for tomorrows
children? What added value to society is your organization working
towards? Its a concept that should not be restricted to
charitable organizations or public benefit associations. Roger
Kaufman, a well-known strategic planning author, champions the
need for an organizations planning to have a Mega
dimension that focuses on external clients, including customers/citizens
and the community that the organization serves. Mega goals address
the need for companies to have a higher purpose than simply making
money or simply serving a narrow interest group in the
case of associations. Collins found that paradoxically, companies
with a higher purpose were more financially successful than companies
strictly focussed on profit.
The mission of the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists
and Geophysicists of Alberta is to serve society and protect the
public by regulating, enhancing and providing leadership in the
practice of the professions of engineering, geology and geophysics.
The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters mission is to
continuously improve the competitiveness of Canadian industry
and to expand export business. Wow! Serving society and the sector
are much better long-term strategies than serving the membership
alone. I contrast the mission of the Science Teachers of Manitoba
To promote and support the development of science education
for teachers and students of Manitoba with another provincial
teachers group Through leadership and service we dedicate
ourselves to the promotion of the professional excellence and
personal well-being of teachers
- Make sure your value statements are meaningful to your everyday
operations by spelling out what you mean.
The key to meaningful values is to avoid lists of single words.
After all, we all believe in integrity, dont we? The Canadian
Cancer Society example, given above, shows how definitions transform
values from slogans to guidelines.
Many private and non-profit organizations use a code of ethics,
a credo or other long-form description of what they believe in.
The John Howard Society sets out six principles to guide the activities
of its employees and volunteers, including People have the
right to live in a safe and peaceful society as well as a responsibility
implied by this right to respect the law and All people
have the potential to become responsible citizens. These
kinds of values statements help people to make decisions, and
to respect the intent and spirit of their organizations
purpose and plan even when specific situations arent covered.
- Finally, learn it, live it, align it.
This means spending time making sure your organizational goals
and objectives are aligned with your mission, vision and values.
Are you serving your clients or your members in all your activities?
Are you true to the intent of your mission and vision? Are your
departmental objectives and tactics supporting your mission and
in line with your values? Well-written phrases are nothing without
good execution - Enrons values statement famously included
respect, integrity, communication, excellence.
Mission, vision and values statements are fundamental to strategic
planning and good management. And reviewing major decisions against
these yardsticks is a powerful governance tool. Reviews allow
those involved to truly understand the objectives of the organization,
to make everyday decisions that are consistent, and to buy into
new directions. The organization is able to evolve without experiencing
chaos because its overall direction and intent are clear. The
Board, employees and volunteers gain a sense of pride in working
for an organization that stands for something and are united by
a common sense of purpose. These are compelling reasons to create
meaningful, reflective statements that shine beyond your organizations
annual report and web page, bringing guidance and motivation to
all your initiatives.
Recommended further reading:
James C. Collins, Jerry I. Porras, Building Your Companys
Vision, Harvard Business Review, September 1996. (also look
James C. Collins, Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful
Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperBusiness, 1994.
Roger Kaufman et al;. Strategic Planning for Success: Aligning
People, Performance and Payoffs, Jossey-Bass/Pffeifer, A Wiley
© Jane Logan. Not to be used without permission and attribution.