A core component of an organization’s strategy is a clear and concise mission statement.  While the mission is a core component of strategy, I strongly advise clients against writing a mission statement as the first, second or even third activity when facilitating a strategy planning session. 

If you have led or been through the typical mission writing exercise, you may know why I say that.  Planning teams typically spend hours and often days haggling over the exact wording for the mission.  And while the words are important, there could be significant benefit gained from using a process that helps the planning team move quicker to consensus.

The challenges that groups have in developing mission statements are clear.  I have found that a key source of the difficulty is that the group is trying to answer: “who we are, what do we want to be, and how do we put this in a small pithy sentence?” All at the same time!

What can make developing a mission statement so frustrating is that you can have all three discussions occurring simultaneously because conclusions have not been reached on the three elements separately.  For example, while one person is arguing over changing a word, another is arguing over a concept that appears to be missing, while a third is insisting that the mission should be inspirational.

A Case Study on Mission Statement Development

Leadership Strategies was working with the Diversity Leadership Forum (DLF), a trade association of diversity professionals.  While some of their members work inside organizations, others are external trainers and consultants.  The organization convenes an annual conference of diversity professionals and has established a competency model for diversity.  They wanted to develop a strategic plan because they felt they had not clearly defined their niche or how they would go about gaining the commitment of others to join them.

In the session we shared with them our process for creating mission statements that is laid out in our strategic planning methodology, The Drivers Model; to answer the following questions, in this order:

  • Where are we now and what key trends will impact our success in the future? (SWOT analysis and/or positioning against trends)
  • What might success look like 10 years in the future? (Visioning)
  • Given this description of success, what are the broad goals for long-term sustained success? (Goal Statements)
  • Given these goals, what does this imply that our mission is?  (Mission Statement) To answer this question, we ask the entire group answer the following: What do we do?  For whom do we do it?  What is the benefit?

Here are the results of the exercise.

Where are we now? (step 1)

The DLF team identified several strengths, areas for improvement and potential strategies to consider.  Among them:

  • Our standard, ethics and information are good
  • Positive recognition that we are re-developing our field concerning competencies and standards and educating members
  • Lack of clarity about who the forum is for
  • A lot of people don’t seem to know what we offer or haven’t used what we offer
  • There’s a need for on-going communication and education
  • Aligning diversity ideas with the business and how it operates (alignment), going beyond the fluff to meet a tangible mission
  • Consider the following:
    • Seeking endorsements from peer organizations for the competency model, etc.  (include leaders in various approaches)
    • Producing a definitive paper on how to develop and execute cultural competence
    • Preparing practitioners to deal with changed and changing demographic trends
    • Establishing national database of practitioners

Where do we want to be? (step 2)

In response to a visioning exercise, which guided the participants to define success 10 years out, more than 30 vision elements were identified, including:

  • A source for diversity content
  • Premier resource for practitioner developments
  • Competencies nationally recognized, elevating field is essential
  • Move diversity to recognized discipline
  • Remove structural inequalities in management, both domestically and internationallay
  • Advance inclusion around the world
  • Great financial endowment

What are the broad goals for long-term sustained success? (step 3)

Using the vision elements as a starting point, the participants developed five broad goals for the organization.

  A. Information SourceProvide leading edge, intellectual collateral about diversity that crosses industries and approaches and is easily accessible for people of different backgrounds and abilities.
B. Practitioner DevelopmentProvide effective, safe, continuous learning and renewal opportunities for diversity practitioners at all levels and across approaches.
C. Societal RecognitionEvaluate and promote the field of diversity as a recognized discipline.
D. ImpactAdvocate and communicate the role diversity plays in creating valuable, life changing outcomes.
E. OrganizationMaintain sufficient organizational and financial resources to support the mission.

What is our mission? (step 4)

After a discussion of the purpose of a mission statement and a review of several relatively strong and relatively weak mission statements, the participants were asked to answer the three critical mission questions for DLF.  One of the participants responded to the three questions as follows and the facilitator recorded the answers on a flip chart for all to see.

 What do we do? – Provide a forum for growth and development
For whom do we do it? – Diversity professionals
What’s the benefit? – Recognition and advancement of the field of diversity

Suddenly, one of the participants yelled out, “That’s it!  That’s our mission!  That’s it right there!”  After less than 10 minutes of discussion, the rest of the participants readily agreed.

With the completion of steps 1-3 in the process, this team reached consensus on their mission statement in less than 20 minutes.  As the weight-loss ads say, “These results aren’t typical…your results might vary.”  However, it is not unusual for a group using this process to reach consensus in 60-90 minutes.

Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement and others.  We are also the leading provider of facilitation training in the United States.