What’s the Real Purpose of Word-Smithing Mission Statements?

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    It’s common that a client will want to start strategic planning with “updating the mission statement.” After all, that’s what a lot of experts suggest. Mission statements get a lot of attention from writers and consultants. Many of them assert that the statements should be highly inspirational and easy-to-read. They give examples of mission statements that roll off the tongue.

    However, far too often, what usually occurs is a word-smithing session. “Should our mission include ‘transformational’ or ‘transcendental’?” “Are we ‘serving our customers’ or ‘collaborating with our customers’?”

    Those session starts out with great energy and exhilaration, and planners greatly appreciate the facilitator’s guidance and presence in the planning. However, all that soon dissipates as planners become increasingly frustrated with not knowing which words to include. Soon they begin to wonder if the word-smithing really is providing any value to the process. They suspect there are more important matters to decide.

    And that’s how much of the planners’ precious time is spent.

    I assert that it’s often best first to answer – even to validate answers to – certain questions. The answers to those questions make it much easier to know what should be in the mission statement, and it makes the mission statement a true compass for the organization’s strategies, plans and practices.

    Planners should first address:

    • What needs and wants exist among our customers? How do we know?
    • What needs and wants do we want to address? How do we know?
    • What group(s) of customers do we want to serve? How do we know?
    • What makes us different than our competitors? How do we know?

    Sure, answering those questions is not as energizing or as exhilarating as fantasizing words on a mission statement, but the questions are a lot more useful.

    Planners might do the word-smithing in a couple of strategic planning cycles, but they’ll usually start to feel that it’s not really planning, rather it’s just a way to avoid the hard work of answering the hard questions.

    Word-smithing the mission statement might lend the illusion that it is indeed the heart of planning — but it’s not.

    What do you think?

    Here’s many more resources about strategic planning.

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    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 763-971-8890
    Read my weekly blogs: Boards, Consulting and OD, Nonprofits and Strategic Planning.