Developing a Mission Statement
By Michael Wilkinson, CMF
Managing Director, Leadership Strategies, Inc.
Adapted from our two-day course, Strategic Planning for Governments and Non-Profit
Most of us have been through the laborious process of developing a mission statement. If you were fortunate it only required three or four hours. For most teams it takes days. Some even require weeks. And we have run into more than one group which aborted the process because it was too painful.
At Leadership Strategies, we believe mission statement development has traditionally been painful because you are literally trying to do three things at once:
1. Figure out what you want to achieve;
2. Determine what you need to be in order to achieve it; and
3. Put all these thoughts in a nice, small, pithy set of words – all at the same time.
Our approach is to do these three steps, one step at a time.
A. Step 1 – Visioning
To help an organization figure out what it wants to achieve, take the planning team through a visualization exercise in which they visualize the accomplishments of the organization. Have the various vision elements grouped into categories as described below.
How to do it
1. Always precede visioning with a clear picture of where we are today (the Situation Assessment).
2. Before starting the visioning exercise, have people position themselves comfortably, with a writing pad and pen nearby.
3. In the visioning exercise, encourage people to think outside the box, to be creative, to think about what success would look like.
Sample Visioning Exercise
“Now that we have looked at where we are currently, let’s turn our minds to where we are going. I would like for us to do a brief visualization exercise. Close your eyes for a minute and imagine yourself looking at a desk calendar with the current date being shown. Watch the pages flip from today, to tomorrow, to the next day, then to the next month, and the next, and then to the next year, and the next, until we arrive at ____ date (the planning horizon). Imagine that you are in your department, listen to people talk about how great of a year we had. Listen to them describe the specific things we were able to accomplish. Ask them about the products we are selling, our facilities, our people. Listen to them talk about the publicity we have received due to our accomplishments. When you are ready, open your eyes and take a few minutes to record what you heard.”
4. Have each individual record what he saw on paper prior to sharing information.
5. Use small groups to perform a preliminary review and to record a composite of the vision elements on large cards, with each card representing a different vision element.
B. Step 2 – Goal Setting
The vision elements are then used to develop the broad goals of the organization.
Goals are broad, long-term aims that define accomplishment of the mission.
“Organization – Maintain sufficient organizational and financial resources to support programs.”
How to do it
1. After completing the visioning exercise, review each small group’s visioning items.
2. Identify common or critical themes (not quantities or time frames) among the groups. These common themes become goals (see the example of goals at the end of this section).
3. Word the common themes generically enough to ensure that the points within each group’s visioning results are included in one or more of the common/critical themes.
4. Once the common themes are agreed upon, provide definitions to each one by asking, “What words describe our intention with this goal?” Use the vision elements from the visioning exercise as a guide. Each definition should start with a verb (e.g., Provide, Maximize, Promote, Maintain), and exclude references to time or quantity. Time and quantity will be defined later in the objectives for each goal (see the diagram example).
5. Ask, “If we achieve these broad goals, does this mean we are successful? Is anything missing?”
C. Step 3 – Mission Writing
The goals then serve as a common foundation for having groups write mission statements that combine the most critical ideas in the goals.
A statement of the overall purpose of an organization. The mission should state what you do, for whom you do it, and the benefit.
“To promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability”
“Provide decision-makers with relevant and credible financial information to promote improvements in accountability and stewardship in state government.”
“Provide a forum for furthering the growth and professionalism of the meetings industry.”
How to do it
1. Once the goals have been identified, review the definition of a mission.
2. Review mission statements of other organizations.
3. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of various mission statements.
4. Review the goals of your organization.
5. Create a flip chart with three rows labeled: “What do we do? For whom? The benefit.” Have participants brainstorm answers to each.
6. Break-up into teams to develop candidate mission statements that incorporate the ideas within the three statements.
7. Review the mission statements; identify strengths of each.
8. Select as a starting point the mission statement receiving the most support; spend a few minutes editing with the group.
9. Avoid wasting too much time having the entire planning team “word smith” the mission by assigning a writing committee to assemble a draft for later review.
At Leadership Strategies, we have found that utilizing this three step process significantly shortens the time needed to write mission statements. By starting with the larger vision, and then focusing that vision through a set of goals, groups are able to quickly achieve consensus on how to combine the goal thoughts into words. Step 3 has taken as little as 30 minutes, and averages under 90 minutes.
And for organizations that then want to write a vision statement, Step 4 is even simpler.
D. Step 4 – Writing the Vision Statement
A picture of the “preferred future”; a statement that describes how the future will look if the organization achieves its ultimate aims
What is the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement?
- While a Mission statement gives the overall purpose of an organization, a Vision statement describes a picture of the “preferred future.”
- While a Mission statement explains what the organization does, for whom and the benefit, a Vision statement describes how the future will look if the organization achieves its Mission.
Centers for Disease Control
|Mission||To promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|Vision||Healthy People in a Healthy World.|
Meeting Planners Organization
|Mission||To provide a forum for furthering the growth and professionalism of the Meetings Industry.|
|Vision||The place where meeting planners meet.|
|Mission||To provide our customers with reliable, cost-effective automobiles.|
|Vision||The value choice in automobiles.|
How to do it
1. After writing the mission statement, review the mission and vision statements of other organizations.
2. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of various vision statements.
3. Review the mission statement of your organization and ask, “If we achieve our mission, what will be the result? What will the future look like?” Have the group brainstorm answers; record the results on flip charts. Have the group identify the two or three key concepts in the list
4. Break-up into teams to develop candidate vision statements that incorporate one or more of the key concepts. You might suggest that they limit a vision statement to less than 10 words.
5. Review the vision statements; identify strengths of each.
6. Select as a starting point the vision statement receiving the most support; spend a few minutes editing with the group.
7. Avoid wasting too much time having the entire planning team “word smith” the vision by assigning a writing committee to assemble a draft for later review.