Biz Doc: It Has Come To This

Annual Operating Plan: Step 1 of 4

September 2014

Values-Mission-VisionDoes your organization have clearly articulated Mission, Vision and Values?  If so, can they be stated within 1 minute by anyone  in the company?  If not, all is not lost, but you do have some work to do.

Defining or reviewing and reinforcing these key items is the first part of any Annual Operating Plan meeting.   My timing for this initial step is typically around October 15th of each year.  See my other post for the calendar here.

In short, a well-crafted Mission, Vision and Values sheet defines why we exist, where we are going and what we value.  A simple web search will yield any number of examples, some memorialized in catchy graphics.  The form and visual beauty, however, is not nearly as important as the content itself and its day-to-day applicability.  Let’s examine them in sequence:

Vision: “Where we are going tomorrow” 
The vision statement describes the organization’s successful outcome as it is envisioned in the future.  “To Be…” is a common clause within a statement defining the balance between rational attainability and a picture of tremendous accomplishment – OR – an ongoing quest.  Here’s a very good example from Amazon:  Our vision is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
 Amazon presents an example of a “quest” within their well-articulated vision statement.   Clarity of direction (and dream a bit) is the goal.

Mission: “What are we doing today”

The Mission essentially explains the what the company does today. This is more specifically action-oriented than the vision.  Here’s an example from Google:  Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  Some organizations, blend Mission and Vision into a single mission statement.  Frankly, I think that’s a much simpler approach if the leadership is having difficulty defining itself (See also: Yahoo).  Near-term executional alignment among management team is the goal. 

Values: “How We Stay Grounded”

Values essentially represent the key behaviors that the organization and its people demonstrate and expect.  This list of values cannot be created in a vacuum and it must be authentic to have any impact.  The objective here is for management to define and demonstrate the valued behaviors and require all employees to (1) exhibit them in everything they do and (2) measure any challenge or special action by them.  A set of 3 is likely incomplete while a  set of 12 is almost certainly unwieldy.

Poorly executed Mission, Vision and Values documents are typically wordy, self-aggrandizing and lack authenticity – meaning they are merely aspirational do not truly describe the organization.  Such examples are the often product of unfortunate offsite strategy meetings where limes and salt outweighed sanity.  All of us have been to one of those affairs where break time was spent standing in the hall shaking your head with colleagues.  My advice: skip the offsite part, find a quiet conference room and gather the senior team.  Be bold and specific while not over-thinking things or becoming a drunken poet.

A successful result is the one in which every employee can quickly and convincingly:

(A) Recite the vision, mission and values and;

(B) Validate their authenticity because they observe them every day in the organization’s accomplishments and the behavior of its people and;

(C) Explain specifically how their job is a valuable part of the bigger picture.

THAT is a sure sign of success in taking step 1.


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