Skip the vision and mission.

When we give talks on building high performing cultures, we’ll often ask the audience, “How many of you have written a vision and/or mission statement for your business?” Typically about 80-90% of the audience will raise their hands. Then we’ll ask, “How many of you know what your vision or mission statement is?” At that point, most look around sheepishly and only about 10% raise their hands!Paper-01

While visions and missions can serve a useful purpose, in the vast majority of situations they’re so poorly done that they actually have the opposite impact of what we intend. Rather than helping to align a workforce, they simply undermine our credibility as leaders because most of our people recognize them for what they are – bland, meaningless statements that have little to do with our daily work.

So what’s the answer? Let’s look a little more deeply at the concepts first, and then the answer will become more apparent. And let’s start by defining our terms.

•  A vision statement is a statement of destination. It tries to answer the question, “Where are we going?” It’s a description of what we want our organization to be 5 or 10 years into the future.

•  A mission statement is a statement of purpose. It tries to answer the question, “Why are we in business?” Beyond simply making money, it explains the reason we exist as an organization.

• A list of core values is a description of our operating principles. It tries to answer the question, “How do we do business?”

Statements are often meaningless

When we have a vision and mission that we really believe in, that we’re passionate about, it can be a powerful way to align a workforce. The problem is that most of the time, the statements we write are so broad and esoteric that they become meaningless. Here are 3 mission statements we recently saw on company websites:

1. Our mission is to promptly respond to our client’s needs for quality professional services through the effective management of our personnel resources, utilizing our extensive experience and knowledge while we remain strongly committed to innovation, partnership, and our client’s interest.

2. Our mission is to provide our customers with the highest quality people, products, and services needed for their success, while allowing for the profitability and growth of the firm.

3. Our mission is to provide the most technologically advanced products with responsive customer service, we strive to achieve a fair return for our suppliers and shareholders and a healthy, safe work environment for our Associates. We measure success by customer satisfaction, our industry reputation, a profitable business and the personal and professional growth of our Associates.

Mission Clouds-01It’s candidly hard to imagine how any of these statements serve any real purpose inside their organizations, other than being able to “cross off the box” saying that they have a mission.

Start on the ground

We suggest to companies that rather than starting in the clouds where people have a hard time seeing the connection, it’s better to start on the ground where it’s relevant to our people every day. And what’s on the ground are behaviors. Behaviors describe the everyday actions necessary to achieve success. They’re more practical because people can visualize and understand behaviors.

Here’s the bottom line: In defining a high performing culture, it’s better to start on the ground where it has the most relevance for your people. Afterwards, you can always go back and work on your vision and mission. And if you don’t have real clarity about what your vision or mission truly is, keep working on it. But don’t put out something you don’t believe in deeply. It’s far better not to have a vision or mission than it is to have a meaningless one.

Next topic: Rituals: the key to making it last.

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