16 06 2013

what is your mission?A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled ‘Corporate Strategy; Not A New Idea But Not As Old As You Thought.’ In that article, I noted that the “Mission Statement and Objectives – describe the company’s mission, vision and values…..”

I have since received a request asking me to clarify how the Mission Statement also contains the Mission and asking; “aren’t they the same thing?”

The words Mission and Vision frequently generate confusion from senior executives in large corporations to one person operations. Some omit one or the other, some confuse the two and some believe they are both the same thing. I discussed this in ‘The Vision Thing’ in 2010 but, in short, your Mission is why you exist while your Vision is where you are seeking to get to.

But what of the Mission Statement, that much-loved (and abused) adornment of annual reports? If it isn’t the same thing as the Mission then what is it and how do the two differ?

A good Mission Statement should provide a valuable touchstone for management and employees, helping to maintain focus, protecting culture and values while serving as a reminder of the organisation’s purpose(s).

The Mission Statement does not need to be the long rambling, mind-numbing tract seen in some annual reports. In essence its purpose is to cover three bases:

  • “Our Mission” – why we are in business; what is our purpose.
  • “Our Vision” – where is it we are planning to get to in X number of years.
  • “Our Values” – what we stand for, what we believe in, our style and what is important about the way(s) in which we work.

The Mission Statement does not create these elements, it reports them; they should already exist. It is not aspirational although, containing the Vision, should include that aspirational component.

The Mission Statement is never (repeat, never) a strategy. Its components might guide and, in part, inform strategy but it is never the strategy itself.

The confusion around the Mission Statement and its components has led to companies getting it wrong and, in some cases, avoiding having such a statement at all. In some sectors management have shied away from using terms like Vision and Mission, believing (wrongly) they serve little purpose, probably because they are frequently applied so badly.

As a way of addressing this fear of the Mission Statement and/or belief it has little value, I have recently applied a different, plain English, use of terms with some clients which you may find useful (they certainly have):

We replaced the trio of Mission, Vision and Values with a quartet of defining statements:

  • Why Are We Here?
  • Where Are We Going?
  • What Do We Stand For?
  • Who Are We?

In answering “why are we here?” the organisation is defining its Mission, regardless of whether that is what they call it. By declaring clearly “where are we going?” the business is putting in place Vision. And by considering “what do we stand for?” and “who are we?” the company Values are declared.

Taking it a step further, my challenge to those organisations with which I have employed this method, is to present the answers to the four questions as a ‘Statement of Intent’ in a way that can be clearly presented and understood on one side of A4 paper.

In achieving this they have created their Mission Statement and included their Mission, Vision and Values. Whether that is what they call them is unimportant. What is important is that they exist, are recorded and can be clearly understood for what they are/say.

If you are getting bogged down in and/or confused by the Mission Statement and its component parts or have avoided addressing them properly at all, give this way of addressing it a go, you will likely find it quite liberating.

In doing so you will also remove all confusion between what is the Mission Statement and what is the Mission.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

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Twitter @cowanglobal


14 10 2010

We’re pleased to announce that we are working in partnership with the Derbyshire & Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce (DNCC) to bring you a new workshop; ‘Your Strategy – Turning Good Into Exceptional’

The workshop takes place on Friday 19th November starting at 9.30am, finishing at 4.30pm at DNCC’s Nottingham offices.

You can book you place at DNCC’s website by clicking here, where you will also find further details.

About the workshop

In tough economic times understanding how to utilise strategy to get the most from tight budgets and from under pressure staff can make a huge difference.

Better planning of resources can make all the difference between maintaining services and thereby business and having to cut them with the inevitable loss in busy that ensues.

This course will look at how good practice in strategy development and implementation can be improved in order to maintain an efficient and effective business.

Who should attend?

Any organisation, large or small, with an interest in improving the way in which their business is run and seeking to find ways in which to maintain effectiveness while seeking efficiencies.

Business owners, middle managers and directors will especially benefit. Third sector organisations, local government and others facing cuts in funding will also find the course a valuable investment in their future.

Content includes

Refresher on what strategy is, sound principles and why it is important to get it right
Methods to improve the efficiency of your strategy
Lessons from real life using examples of how companies have used the techniques and tactics discussed to improve

The Trainer

Jim Cowan runs Cowan Global Limited whose consultancy services have been engaged across the UK as well as around the world by organisations in the business, sporting, voluntary and local government sectors.

Jim also devises and organises events for good causes to date raising over £1/4 Billion for charity. Perhaps his best known idea was the Race for Life.

© Cowan Global Limited 2010

Twitter: @cowanglobal



21 05 2010

Read Part One here.

Yesterday I discussed the company Mission Statement, today I take off from where I left off with a closer look at The Vision.

One of the world’s leading strategists, Jacques Horovitz, phrases it superbly:

The vision is what enables us to define the future, to work towards a specific objective.

The vision should be specific where the mission statement need not be. The vision looks forward into the future, the mission is what we are about now but might also limit the vision if we allow it to constrain us too much.

Your vision is your dream for your company, not a wishy-washy dream but a dream based on sound research which will provide an inspirational signpost to great things to come. Vitally and often overlooked, the vision should also provide the focus, the drive behind your strategy. It takes your dreams and makes them tangible while, importantly also giving them a deadline. If the strategy is the ‘how’ then the vision is the ‘what’.

Your vision is your dream with a deadline which will then provide focus for developing and delivering your company strategy to that deadline. It should be challenging but not impossible. It should be inspirational not only to you but to the staff who will be managing and delivering the strategy on the company’s behalf.

In the 1980s GE came up with the vision; “become number one or number two in every market we serve and revolutionise this company to have the strengths of a big company combined with the leanness and agility of a small company.

But by when? I can just imagine hearing the child’s voice from the back seat as they make their journey, “are we there yet?” as the company works towards an undefined deadline.

And what of; “number one or number two”? Does that sound as wishy-washy to you as it does to me? Doesn’t that allow a little space for settling for second best if first hasn’t happened? Does it sound like a dream to you? Does it inspire you?

Let’s transfer this vision to that of a talented athlete whose dream is to, one day, compete in the Olympic Games. Without defining which Olympic Games (the deadline) there will always be tomorrow thus removing any urgency or need to create impetus. And then one day the athlete will wake up and time and age has caught up with him and the Olympic Games becomes a dream unfulfilled.

That same athlete might have targeted a specific Olympic Games but then gone wishy-washy on us by targeting becoming number one or number two in the world. It sounds great but when seeking a driver for high performance it is too unspecific. Athletes improve every generation; seemingly impossible feats become historical achievements. Think four minute mile and you get the picture; once it would make you number one now it would make you number, erm….. you get the picture?

The athlete needs to work out a target performance that is likely to produce a gold medal performance and work to that. Becoming number one is non-specific; running sub 3.45 (which only three men in history have done) for the mile by 2016 is.

Ah,” I hear you say, “but running that time will not guarantee the gold. The athlete cannot control what other athletes are doing.” And you’d be right. But neither can we control our business competitors all we can do is aim for the likely requirement to be where we dream of being. Saying “being number one or number two” without time frame is vague. Saying “I will run under 3.45 for the mile by 2016” is both specific and measurable, not to mention far more motivational and easy for the athlete and the team around the athlete to picture and plan to (i.e. the strategy).

I admit, it is harder to get the vision right than it is to simply have a good sounding vision which no one will question. And you are not alone in thinking that. Here are some visions from large multi-national corporations which fell into the trap described above.

In 1987 Microsoft’s stated vision was “a PC on every desk.

Wow! No lack of ambition there. But by when? How many PCs does that mean? 23 years on, are we there yet?

In the 1970s Honda’s stated vision was “we will destroy Yamaha.

30+ years on; are we there yet?

The ‘vision thing’ as George Bush senior so ably reminded us can be a challenge to get right and confusing to understand but when it is done right it can be inspirational, motivational and an unbeatable driver in successful strategic planning.

The vision has been described as ‘a dream with a deadline,’ in fact that’s what I called it above. In reality it is slightly more than that. It is a dream, made specific, with a deadline.

What does a great vision look like?

This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.

That was President John F Kennedy (a president who did get the vision thing) addressing Congress on 25th May 1961. A nation was inspired and, come 1970 and the new decade, no one was asking; “are we there yet?

Now, go and dream!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010


20 05 2010

When he was President of the United States, George Bush senior was once asked about his longer term view. In response, he mumbled a bit before saying “oh yeah, the vision thing” confirming in one disastrous (to him) sound bite that he simply did not understand the need to establish a vision as the focus of your strategic planning.

As a direct result, to this day the former President has failed to shake off the reputation he gained as a short term thinker; hardly ideal for the ‘leader of the free world!’

But what is, as Bush put it; ‘the vision thing?’

Well, you’d be surprised how few companies, large as well as small, actually get this right, including more than a few who enjoyed mocking poor old George.

I was recently discussing this story with a client who assumed they had ‘the vision thing’ sorted and who proceeded to proudly tell me theirs. Unfortunately their vision was not really a vision, nor was it a mission statement (more of which later). What it was, was a hybrid of the two which fell short of being either, thus failing to provide either direction or focus to their strategic planning.

So; you there. Yes; you. The one reading this blog. What is the difference between your mission statement and your vision? Why shouldn’t they be merged into one? And, why do you even need them?

Let’s start with the Mission Statement. If you are in business on your own or in a small partnership you probably know, roughly, what yours is. The problem is, as your business grows and you get pulled in different directions you might forget it if you haven’t recorded it.

For your Mission Statement is the very core of your business, in fact it is why you are in business at all. It doesn’t need to be flashy, motivational or carry bells and whistles; it just needs to be an accurate statement of fact which easily reminds you and your staff why you exist.

It is unlikely that your company Mission Statement will change very much although you should stay aware that sometimes progress leaves inadaptable companies behind and be prepared to review it if the line of business you are in is becoming outdated and superseded. We can all think of companies that went to the wall because they slavishly continued manufacturing products the world no longer wanted.

The Mission Statement can be long or short, the key is to be descriptive and true to your reason for existing.

A long mission statement might not make engaging reading but can provide for complete accuracy in describing your purpose for being. A good example would be the Mission Statement of Hubbs Machine & Manufacturing Inc. of Cedar Hills in Missouri, USA:

Hubbs Machine & Mfg. Inc. will design, develop, manufacture in house, inventory and distribute Optical Targeting and Accessories that support Close Tolerance Industrial Survey Systems such as Computer Aided Theodolites, Photogrammetry Systems, Laser Trackers and other emerging measurement systems. In addition we will be supporting those systems that have yet to be discovered. We understand and appreciate the many challenges the system users face regarding accuracy, complexity and deadline. We will support those users and their deadlines to the best of our ability. Not only with the common off the shelf items, but also diverse and custom items made especially for your particular project. Hubbs Machine & Mfg. Inc. is a valuable tool to you, the end system user, by manufacturing and providing not only common items but also non-standard, small quantity and difficult items as well. Hubbs Machine & Mfg. Inc. is one of many important and necessary links in a long chain of events that must take place in order to bring your project to a successful completion. We will do our best to make that successful completion happen.

Shorter, punchier mission statements can be just as effective while leaving far more leeway for a company to evolve in fast moving markets. Take Hewlett Packard (HP) for example:

Make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity.

That sounds great, leaves plenty of ‘wriggle room’ and yet still describes why HP exists.

But if you’re looking for a great mission statement that really tells you why the company exists yet doesn’t waste words, try this from Wal-Mart:

Give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people.

Okay, those watching closely will realise that Wal-Mart have changed their mission statement without changing their mission. As I said, you shouldn’t need to change your mission but that doesn’t mean you can’t. The Wal-Mart website now states simply that ‘our company’s purpose is’:

Saving people money so they can live better.

Both are simple, to the point and unarguably why Wal-Mart is in business.

And what of the vision. One of the world’s leading strategists, Jacques Horovitz, phrased it superbly:

The vision is what enables us to define the future, to work towards a specific objective.

Tomorrow, in part two, I will look more closely at the vision thing and provide some examples, some good, some not so good!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010