CONFUSING MISSION WITH MISSION STATEMENT?

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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HOUSTON: IT’S YOU WHO HAS THE PROBLEM!

17 12 2012

NASAIt is a line which became synonymous with the early days of space exploration and it fell into common usage as a term used whenever things were going wrong; “Houston, we have a problem.”

Only today it is Houston or, more precisely, NASA who has the problem. Why? The organisation used by consultants around the world as an example of quality Visioning has forgotten how to do quality Vision.

I am among the many Strategy Consultants who, when asked to cite a great example of what a Vision should look like has quoted NASA’s Vision originally stated by John F Kennedy on 25th May 1961:

“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.”

As a Vision it had everything a good Vision requires. It was measurable, it had a clear deadline, it was inspiring and motivational, it was achievable and it clearly sign-posted the way for the focus of the ensuing NASA Strategy which ultimately led to its being achieved.

Fast forward from the 1960s to the 2010s and things have drastically changed. Much of the discussion around the future of space flight appears to emanate from the private sector within the USA or from other nations not previously viewed as ‘space powers.’ NASA is slipping behind.

A recent report from the Space Foundation declared; “NASA’s 2011 Strategic Plan is no longer viable.” Others are declaring that neither NASA’s workforce, the US people nor the international community are inspired or motivated to achieve the goal previously stated of visiting an asteroid by 2025. (Source: Aviation Week).

In short, the pioneers and early pacesetters have flown off course. But why?

I would suggest that they need to do little more that look at their current stated Vision* and compare it to that of 1961. They should ask themselves; “is this measurable, does it have a clear deadline, will it inspire and motivate our people to strive for its achievement? Indeed, is it even a Vision?”

The answer will be a resounding no on all points.

While NASA need to look to their past to recognise a better route to their future, for businesses large and small around the world they still teach a simple yet vital lesson in Strategy, a lesson so many still get wrong:

The more specific and clearly stated your Vision, the easier it is to plan for its attainment, the more likely you are to achieve success.

It is a lesson which you forget at your peril!

*NASA’s current stated Vision is:

“To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”

It is classic bad Visioning; confusing Mission with Vision thereby omitting the very thing which gives Strategy direction!

 

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

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GOALS & STRATEGY – ARE YOU CONFUSING THE TWO?

3 09 2012

You know where you want to get to and you are highly motivated to get there. Your desire for the success you have defined is strong and you are determined to push until you arrive.

Only one thing can stop you; your lack of strategy.

Mistaking Goals for Strategy is not an unusual mistake in every sector within which I have worked, from business to sport and from charities to local government. And because so many confuse the two it is a weakness that many businesses overlook until it is too late.

I recently met the owner of a business who has struggled somewhat in the economic downturn of the last couple of years. He was confused by the struggles of his organisation because, he said, his strategy always made sense on paper. He asked, would I mind joining his Senior Management Team and him to take a look to check they had it right?

A couple of weeks later I was sat in the company Board Room listening to him and his SMT explain the Company Strategy to me. As is the current vogue, the strategy had a name; the ‘20/five/25 Plan’ and, I was assured, I would love it because of its “beautiful simplicity.”

The plan was to increase revenues by 20% per annum over the next five years while increasing profit margins by 25% over the same period. Having told me the plan, they looked at me expectantly, I assume waiting for praise.

I paused before I spoke considering my words very carefully. “Well, it is certainly aggressive,” I started, “now, what will you need to do to ensure this happens?”

Bob, the company owner smiled at me before saying; “you are going to love this Jim, especially given your sporting background and your belief in always striving for excellence. Because what we have here in abundance is the will to win and the desire to keep pushing even when it hurts. Yes, 20/5/25 is a challenge, but we are all winners here and we are committed to keep pushing until we get there.”

I again paused before I spoke, aware that communication isn’t always what you say but also about what you are understood to have said. Maybe he misunderstood my question? Okay, I’ll phrase it differently; “Bob, I congratulate you and your team on your ambition however, making this kind of leap in performance usually relies on identifying a key strength on which you can build, create change or generate new opportunities. What is it you have identified?”

Still expecting something more, Bob’s response surprised me. He quoted Jack Welch; “we have found that by reaching for what appears to be the impossible, we often actually achieve the impossible.”

Of course, one of the problems with using quotes in such circumstances is that they are often used selectively and/or out of context. It was Jack Welch who also said, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

I needed to change tack and so asked Bob if he saw the generals in command at the Battle of the Somme as suitable role models? He asked me to explain what I meant.

I took a deep breath and explained; “At the Somme, and at Passchendaele and at many other First World War battles, ‘pushing until you get there’ sent tens of thousands of men over the top to almost certain death. They didn’t lack the will to win; neither did they lack motivation even if, for some, motivation came from the threat of being shot if they didn’t go over the top. What thy lacked was competent strategic leadership; leadership which could see the difference between blindly pursuing a goal (‘over the top, one more push’) and having a clear strategy, a series of coherent steps to get them there. What strategy does is to establish the conditions which will make the push, the motivation and the will to win successful.”

I saw the penny drop. Bob and his SMT realised that what they had in their ‘20/five/25 plan’ was, in fact, an aspiration, a goal. In order to reach the destination defined by that goal they needed to plan the route. They needed a strategy.

Bob and his SMT are now developing that strategy and in the course of doing so have pared back their ambitious goal because they realised they lacked the resources to achieve it. They won’t make the same mistake again and they are now well on the way to planning their way through the downturn and to emerging healthy and ready to grow.

But what of you and your business? Does your strategy confuse the ‘what’ with the ‘how’? Are you going over the top for one more push or have you got a clearly marked road map to success; aka, a strategy?

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2012

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STRATEGY AND TACTICS – THE DIFFERENCE AND THE RELATIONSHIP

7 07 2012

For many, when talking about strategy what they actually mean is tactics. For some, one is applied but not the other while for others the terms are used interchangeably without full comprehension.

Matters are not helped when, as I found at a recent talk, some consultants and coaches use the terms incorrectly. It struck me that a plain English explanation of what each is and how they inter-relate might be useful…..

Let me start by disposing of a common myth; that strategy is the ‘what’ while tactics are the ‘how’. While this sounds convenient and is repeated in a number of articles on various websites and in a number of books, it is incorrect.

The ‘what’ precedes strategy; it is the vision, the goal or the aim. It is a clear description of what success looks like. While vital to successful strategy, it is not the strategy itself and is not what I am explaining today.

The definition of strategy I use is; ‘a plan or design for achieving one’s aims.’ Note that the aim(s) is (are) already defined, that the strategy is the plan, the ‘how’ which describes how that aim will be achieved.

A good vision will look to the long-term and therefore the strategy which delivers that vision will describe the journey over the medium to long-term. In doing this, there is a point at which planning in too much detail is pointless. The variables become impossible to describe, define and decide between. Therefore strategy tends to the bigger picture elements of ‘how’ deliberately overlooking fine, detailed planning.

That component of the strategy is best done short-term when variables are known and more easily managed. This element of the ‘how’ is called tactics. The definition of tactics is; ‘procedures or set of manoeuvres engaged to achieve some end or aim.

The tactics are a component of strategy, they are not separate. Where strategy is the big picture plan for delivering success, tactics are the detailed components which ensure the strategy stays on course and on time.

For many organisations the short-term planning, is all they do. For others the big picture is where planning begins and ends. For others the vision, the picture of success is vague leading to ineffective planning, whether strategy or tactics or both, in pursuit of an ill-defined aim.

Think of it like building a house. Before you can start you need to know what the finished article will look like. This is your vision. In order to build it you need to know what order things need to be built-in, where the walls go, how high the ceilings will be, how the eventual owner will access it and more. This is your strategy. However, before the house is complete and will ‘work’ you need more detail; central heating, double glazing, wiring, gas connections, lights, maybe a letter box, door handles, security features and more. These are your tactics.

In your business you should be able to describe what long-term success looks like (your vision). Without, what are you planning for? In pursuit of that vision you should have a plan or plans addressing the main elements that must be achieved and in what order (your strategy). Without, how will you achieve your vision? How will you know what you should be doing and when (to any purpose)? To ensure that strategy becomes successful strategy you should break it down into detailed plans which leave no stone unturned (your tactics). Without, you have no more than only a general idea of what to do but without specifics.

It is not wise to plan tactics too far in advance, tactical planning should be conducted no more than 12 months in advance, often less. Beyond that, the landscape is too changeable and unspecific, detailed planning becomes less reliable.

In summary, strategy is how you deliver success and, far from being different or separate, tactics are key components of every successful strategy. With strategy alone, with luck you might just get there, with tactics alone you are doing no more than being busy for the sake of being busy.

Or, as Sun Tzu put it 2500 years ago; ‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2012

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IMPROVE YOUR PLANNING; LISTEN TO THE CHESHIRE CAT

23 06 2012

Online, in person and in print; there are any number of places you can seek advice on developing sound strategy but in the rush to get on with the planning, don’t overlook the importance of properly defining what it is you are planning for…..

Lewis Carroll’s novel ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (commonly called Alice in Wonderland) was first published in 1865. It is generally considered to be one of the best examples of a genre known as ‘literary nonsense.’ And it is probably reasonable to think of it as nonsense as it tells the tale of a girl called Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and who then meets a number of strange anthropomorphic creatures. However, behind its enduring popularity lies Carroll’s ability to use logic to relay significant parts of his tale.

Consider the moment when Alice, lost, comes across the Cheshire Cat:

“Excuse me sir,” Alice enquires, “could you tell me which road to take?”

Wisely the cat asks, “Where are you going?”

Somewhat dismayed, Alice responds, “Oh, I don’t know where I’m going sir.”

“Well,” replied the cat, “if you don’t know where you are going, it really doesn’t matter which road you take.”

The Cheshire Cat imparts sound advice not only for Alice but for anyone involved in strategic planning. The temptation is to rush to the planning, to start describing the journey, the ‘how’ part of reaching the destination.

But pause a moment and consider the sage advice of the cat; if you haven’t taken the time to get a clear picture of what success looks like, to properly define and describe your desired destination, then how can you accurately plan to ensure you arrive at your desired destination?

Having a strategy is not the key to success many think it is; the key lies in having a good strategy. And without a clear defined destination no strategy can be considered good.

But don’t take my word for it; ask the Cheshire Cat!

*I am grateful to Richard Smith of the Internet Consultancy.com from Redhill (UK) for pointing out to me that the original of this blog contained an error in that I assigned the quote to the caterpillar and not the Cheshire Cat. Thank you Richard, quality feedback is always more than welcome.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2012

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VISIONLESS STRATEGY – DESTINATION UNKNOWN

9 05 2012

Not too long ago the importance of establishing your Vision prior to developing your strategy was accepted practice. Increasingly however a school of thought is emerging which suggests that strategy does not require vision.

Far from being good advice, visionless strategy is a shortcut to…..destination unknown.

The purpose of Vision is to provide your strategy with direction. In the same way that you can better plan a car journey if you know the destination, so you can better plan your business strategy (or any other strategy) if you know where it is you intend to get to.

Good Vision is a bit more than that; good vision answers the question; ‘what does success look like?’ To continue the car journey analogy, vision might give you a destination of ‘London’ – okay for planning in general terms but a bit vague. Good vision would be more specific; ‘the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith W6 in time for a theatre show at 8.00pm.’

The problem with most businesses is that they simply do not understand strategy (as reported by a McKinsey survey in February 2011). This extends to the Vision which drives strategy too.

Last summer I spoke at an event at which I was sharing the platform with Microsoft. The theme of my talk was creating good Vision. In preparing my talk I researched those I was sharing the platform with in the hope I could use them as good examples. Unfortunately, while researching Microsoft’s Vision I came across a great example of how not to do it!

I can hear you now; “hang on Jim, Microsoft. Are you sure? They are a pretty successful company!” Let me explain.

The Vision was; ‘A PC on every desk.’

Having found this poor example of Vision, rather than avoid it I phoned up my contact at Microsoft and explained what I had found and asked if they minded if I used it as an example of how not to do it. His reaction surprised me; he laughed. After he stopped laughing he invited me to go ahead before letting me know how relieved Microsoft were to have caught how bad that Vision was in time.

He explained, had Microsoft continued to blindly follow this Vision for much longer the smart phone revolution might have passed them by completely. Now, although they are playing catch up, at least they are in the game.*

‘A PC on every desk’ was a Vision in the ‘destination London’ bracket. It gave a vague direction but failed to describe what success looked like and, worse, offered no deadline. To those peddling the idea of visionless strategy Microsoft’s poor ‘PC on every desk’ would be cited as evidence that Vision doesn’t work whereas the truth is that the Vision itself was poor.

Another reason for poor Vision, one I come across on an almost daily basis, is that of confusing Vision with Mission. Put very simply and in short, your Vision is where you are going, your Mission is why you exist. The two are often linked but not the same. The Girl Scouts cite their Vision as ‘help a girl reach her highest potential.’ This is a great example of an organisation mistaking what they do with where they are going; their Mission and their Vision. If applied properly as Vision, to drive strategy it is unlikely to prove successful. The visionless strategy peddlers will use this as an example of why vision doesn’t work, why it is unnecessary. The truth is that it is just poor vision.

The third group of visionless strategists have existed for far longer; they are that group who rather than figure direction prefer the idea of “just getting on with it.” They are easy to spot, they are often the people who seem permanently busy but generate little forward momentum other than by chance.

Their hero might even be Lao Tzu; he who is mistakenly quoted as stating “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” (The more literal translation is, “a journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet”).**

The ‘just get on with it’ brigade would start walking, literally taking the first step. However, the more sensible first step might lie in first determining your destination. To return to the car journey analogy the person (business) who paused to first define what success looks like will arrive at the Lyric Theatre (and on time), those who just got on with it could well be……..….well……..…anywhere!

To put it in real terms, let’s say our Mission was to conquer space. What are our options?

  1. “We don’t need a vision to give us direction, let’s just get on with it.”
  2. “We are going to outer space.”
  3. 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. (John F Kennedy, 25th May 1961).

Whose Vision (or lack of) will give their strategy the sharper focus, the higher chance of success?

Who is your money on?

*Not only have Microsoft improved their Vision and given it a deadline, they have also moved on a step and present it in visual (video) format. To view Microsoft’s ‘Productivity Future Vision 2019′ (made in 2011), click here.

**To put Lao Tzu’s oft quoted words in perspective it should be noted he also said, “a good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, May 2012

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STRATEGY STILL A STRUGGLE FOR GOVERNMENT

9 03 2012

With Vince Cable questioning whether the government he is a part of understands vision and evidence increasing it does not understand strategy, I felt it time to revisit the question of whether the Coalition grasps strategy.

Earlier this week the Business Secretary Vince Cable warned that the government lacks a ‘compelling vision’ beyond tackling Britain’s record fiscal deficit. While I agree, I am left wondering why fewer commentators and no other politicians (including the opposition) appear to consider the point hugely (or even moderately) important.

It is not only important; it is vital to the UK’s economic recovery that there is a clear, concise, compelling vision of what business will look like and how it will operate in the coming years.

In December last year I raised the matter when pointing out that while David Cameron had been correct not to sign up to a Eurozone agreement that penalised the financial sector our economy is so reliant on. However, I also suggested that to continue to be so reliant on income generated via the Square Mile (11% of GDP) and not have any vision-based strategy for the diversification of British industry was “foolhardy indeed”.

One politician showing signs of understanding strategy is Margaret Beckett who has been at pains this week to point out that despite the fact we have been aware of the crisis in the Eurozone for several months, no one in government has yet thought to put in place strategy in the event it collapses (plausible if not probable).

Beckett chairs the joint committee on the government’s National Security Strategy (NSS) and while the committee welcomed the government’s decision to publish the NSS alongside the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review; it said that “a clear over-arching strategy” had yet to emerge. In Beckett’s own words; “A good strategy is realistic, is clear on the big questions and guides choices. This one does not.” (Source: BBC).

While her definition falls somewhat short of being a good definition, it is advanced thinking for Westminster. What Beckett fails to point out is that this lack of quality thinking around strategy is not unusual in Westminster; it has become ‘the norm.’

While the text books list hundreds of versions of strategy, to all intents and purposes they are all either vision-based or issue-based in one format or another. Issue-based is short-term strategy with the sole purpose of problem resolution. Vision-based, what most people actually think of as ‘strategy,’ is the medium to long-term pursuit of a clearly defined vision.

In its tackling of the fiscal deficit, in its swathing cuts and in its austerity mind-set, the Coalition has addressed (and continues to address) the immediate problem. However, issue-based strategy cannot drive recovery, it can only halt decline. To continue to employ a strategy of only addressing the present and very real threat, the government neglect the future. And, as Cable rightly points out, without a compelling vision there can be no cohesive, effective, targeted strategy for the future.

Understanding cause and effect is key to good vision and strategy. I have reported the government’s poor understanding of cause and effect in previous blogs, principally in November last year when I looked at how raising income by increasing taxation on fuel was unsustainable; firstly because there is a critical point at which drivers will simply be forced to buy less and, secondly, because higher fuel prices feed increases in prices in everything reliant on fuel for its production and delivery (everything else). Thus, there is a critical tipping point at which higher taxes mean revenue from fuel tax dropping at the same time as high street spending also reduces.

That point has been revisited this week amid concerns that the Chancellor will seek to raise further revenue by (again) increasing the tax on fuel. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has published a report suggesting that instead of increasing fuel taxation, a reduction of 2.5p in the levy would generate 180,000 new jobs. Despite Vince Cable’s questioning of the vision it appears George Osborne has forgotten that without people spending in the economy (i.e. the High Street) there will be no recovery, there will be no increase in national income with which to pay off national debt.

A second news story in the last few days exacerbated the issue. Good strategy requires what is often referred to as ‘joined-up thinking.’ Joined-up in the way that even if an increase in fuel taxation was accepted as sensible, an alternative cheaper way to travel would exist for those forced out of their cars so they might still have something left in their pockets to spend in a way to boost our economic future.

No such luck. This week in a move demonstrating yet again the government’s ineptitude at all things strategy, they announced that they are going to reduce subsidies to the railway by £3.6 billion a year up to 2019. Joined-up thinking? Not even close.

Yet again the government has overlooked cause and effect. Not only is Vince Cable correct in that the government lacks a compelling vision beyond tackling Britain’s fiscal deficit – that lack of vision leaves them without any comprehensible strategy aimed at building Britain’s economic future.

We are almost back at Big Society again. Almost tangible; almost comprehensible; but impossible to describe. As I once stated, it’s a bit like trying to pick up mercury – you know it’s there, you just can’t grasp it.

And if you can’t grasp it, if you can’t describe it, if you have no vision for it, you definitely can’t plan for it!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, March 2012

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