The Culture Trap
What to avoid when completing your mission and vision statement
By Mark Vickers, Ph.D.
We have become anesthetized to the vapidity of cultural expectations. The values that we want to express in our company mission and vision become overshadowed by language that we are "supposed" to have. Our mission and vision should be expressions of who we are, not of what others expect. And the values that shape our mission and vision should be "interesting" (accurately defined as "different"). Interesting forces us to see something in a new way. It makes us sit up and say, "I didn't think of that."
The culture trap makes things uninteresting. For example, many companies use bland values that they think people want to hear, not what really represents their uniqueness. Perhaps the most overused value is "integrity." Integrity as a value makes me say "duh." Of course I expect integrity. You don't need to tell me that you are honest. (By the way, integrity really doesn't mean "honest," but that's how people have come to know the word. It has to do with how we make moral decisions, but that is another post).
The key then, is to find "interesting," distinctive values that reflect what you want and what actually is lived out in your company. Let's create a mission statement for a fictitious company, a marketing and design firm. Their three main values are "Creative," "Client Centered," and "Careful." We want to fish out the full meaning of each value by attaching action words to each value. For example, the value "creative" has to do with thoughtful, spontaneous, and artistic. "Client Centered" could entail good listening, intentional interaction, and responsiveness. "Careful" has to do with thoroughness and completion without error. Those action words will form the basis of our Mission Statement.
The challenge now is to take all of these action words, mix them together and create a coherent statement that accurately reflects those three values in no more than two sentences.
So here it goes: Our mission is to create imaginative marketing and design solutions through a meticulous analysis of client needs and vision.
This mission statement includes aspects of all the original values. It's brief, and captures what the firm does and how it does it. Also, we have avoided the culture trap of utilizing terms which are in vogue and trite. Your mission should include the essence of your business (its raison d'être or reason for existence) and nothing more. No fluff, just enough!
Next post we will discuss how to use this process in creating a vision statement for your company.