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Friday, December 30, 2011

4 New Year’s Resolutions for Strategic Leaders



In the spirit of a New Year and new beginnings, here are 4 New Year’s Resolutions for strategic leaders. I know I plan to put them into practice in my own business. What about you?


Resolution #1 - I will Look Forward!

Back in my high school years I did everything humanly possible to skip history class. There was just something about having to memorize specific names, dates, events, locations and other such details that turned me off and led me to wander the hallways in a desperate search for something (anything!) more interesting.   

It’s not that I don’t value the past and its many lessons. Human history is a wonderful teacher both on a global and a personal level and I now read history more than anything else. 


One of my favourite books. (I still don’t remember specific names, dates or events).


But here’s the thing about history…it occurs only in the past. You can’t change it. It offers no OPPORTUNITY, only lessons.

Read history. Study the lessons of the past. Listen carefully to the wisdom of those who lived it and the wealth of knowledge they have to share. But make it your #1 New Year’s resolution to look forward! Seize the opportunities that are in front of you instead of crying about those that have passed you by.

This man could have spent his time lamenting mistakes. Instead he looked forward to new opportunities. How many people do you know who say “I should have invested in Apple in the 80s” instead of looking forward to the opportunities in front of them today?


Resolution # 2 - I will define ACTIONS to move me forward.

Now that we’ve decided to look forward, let’s talk about how to move forward.

From my previous posts, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of goals and objectives. However, in my experience as a strategic consultant, I can tell you that goals and objectives are often expressed in a way that keeps people looking backward instead of moving forward. Let me explain…

Compare the statements in the two columns below. The first column expresses a goal as an outcome to be achieved by a certain time. The second expresses a specific ACTION to be undertaken.

Outcome Statement
ACTION Statement
Lose 5 pounds by March 31, 2012.
Starting January 2, schedule and complete five 45 minute exercise sessions per week.
Cut our spending by 10% by December 2012.
Find and hire an efficiency expert to undertake an independent review of our programs/activities and work with our management team to develop options and detailed implementation plans. Recommendations to be delivered by March 31, 2012 and work to commence immediately thereafter.
Get 10 new clients for my business by June 2012
Starting January 2, start the daily discipline of identifying and reaching out (calling, emailing, mailing brochure, etc.) to 3 new contacts. Use Prospecting/Sales tracking spreadsheet to monitor status and manage relationship.

The outcome-oriented statements in column 1 make for good soundbytes. That’s why politicians like using them when speaking to voters and CEOs like them when speaking to shareholders. It makes them sound decisive and in control. But the problem with outcome-oriented goal statements is that outcomes can only be measured at the end of the time period stated, after the politician’s soundbyte has been long forgotten (see example below), or the CEO has already raked in millions in bonuses.  In contrast, ACTIONS can be evaluated and adjusted or refined on an ongoing basis. 




One of his team’s outcome-oriented goals…"As President, Governor Bush will pay the debt down to a historically low level."
[Source: Bush-Cheney 2000 website]

The actual outcome…As of July 30, the national debt stood at $7,316,567,571,232.89, a record high.
[Source: Treasury Department, 8/3/04, Reuters, 7/31/04]


The point is not that Outcome-oriented goal statements are ineffective. They’re just incomplete. They need clear actions. Once you've defined your goals, make it your second resolution to spend time on defining the specific ACTIONS you will take this coming year.


Resolution #3 - I will use blinders…but selectively

I’m not a horse racing expert so I can’t say for sure but my understanding is that “blinders” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blinders) are useful for keeping the horse from getting distracted, scared, or otherwise unfocused from the task at hand – running as fast as they possible can towards the finish line.



This resolution involves ongoing judgment and it’s in two parts….

First I will allow myself to remove my strategic blinders occasionally. By this I mean that I will allow “we should”, “we could”, “what if” conversations and other such brainstorming/creative thinking exercises. Planning is important but religiously following a strategic plan you wrote two years ago is akin to wearing blinders ALL the time and it will lead to missed opportunities. It always does. The world changes too fast and opportunities fly by at lightning speed. Remain open to possibilities and serendipitous accidents no matter how strategic and planned you like to be.

Not convinced that serendipitous accidents and unplanned possibilities are worth your time? History provides a lesson here too...Sticky Notes...Velcro...Google...Twitter...Groupon...Facebook...all involved serendipitous accidents and openness to unplanned possibilities!

However, on the flip side, once you have a clear idea of your direction and goals (i.e. the next finish line), don’t be afraid to put the blinders on and FOCUS. FOCUS. FOCUS. The most frustrating thing a leader deals with is constant talk of “we should”, “we could” and “why don’t we”. At some point, you need to replace those distracting comments with more decisive “WE WILL” statements and then get moving.

Make it your third resolution to figure out right away whether you need to start the year with the blinders OFF (i.e. reconsider your past goals, opening yourself up to possibilities), or to put them ON (i.e. remove distractions and start focusing on actions needed to accomplish the goals you’ve set).


Resolution # 4 - I will have the courage to re-start the band if/when necessary

Back in the 1980s (I can’t remember the specific date…see resolution #1) I went to see Rod Stewart in concert. Yup, that’s what I said. [Insert your own joke here].

Rock legend/Bra magnet. (Was it the hair?!)

There was one point about midway through the concert where Rod the Mod took center stage with all the lights dimmed and a single spotlight on him as he was about to croon a love song to the multitude of swooning gals in the front row.

Picture this global rock star standing centre stage, all eyes on him as he starts to sing one of his classic songs to countless screaming, fainting, bra-throwing fans in front of him (oh to be a rock star…I digress). But there’s a problem. The band starts the song out of sync. For some reason the tempo is off. The drumbeat is too fast. The bass player is struggling to keep up and the song sounds like something you’d hear at amateur night at the local pub. Now, I’m sure the gals in the front row didn’t even notice but I was impressed with Mr. Stewart’s reaction. He didn’t keep singing and hope the band would get back in sync. Instead he stopped and re-started the band. It was quick and decisive. He didn’t make a big deal about it. He didn’t rant and rave about how hard it is to find good people these days. Nope. He just waved his bandleader a signal, gave a quick wink to the crowd, and got things back on track and moving in the right direction.

My final resolution for the year is to have courage to “re-start the band” if and when necessary. Organizations can easily get off track. Teams can too. Entrepreneurs and business owners like myself,  ditto. It’s the job of the strategic leader to recognize when this is happening and to take quick and decisive action to get things back on track. (Unlike for Mr. Stewart however, don't expect any bra-throwing excitement to follow

Wishing you peace and prosperity for the New Year!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Execution Hurts (Put A Little “Fight” in Your Mission!)

There is a valuable strategy lesson in the (very brief) personal story below, please stick with me for a minute…


I participate in a local recreational, non-contact ,hockey league (most people call it “beer league”). In one of our games last year, I challenged an opponent to a fight. For those of you who know me, you’re probably thinking that doesn’t sound like me at all, and you’re probably a bit disappointed in my judgment. Those of you who don’t know me are probably thinking “typical hockey goon!”




Now, before you rush to judge, let me say that my actions earned me my first penalty in over two years. I am simply not a fisticuffs kind of guy and I don’t usually let my emotions get out of control during competition, even when hacked, slashed or otherwise pushed around.


Here’s the strategy lesson in this…

Most organizations (and the consultants they hire to facilitate and guide them) are good at planning strategy. Whether it’s done in-house at management/staff meetings, at fancy board retreat and planning sessions, or through a very extensive and involved stakeholder consultation process, most groups can come up with a decent set of goals, priorities, objectives, etc. to give them a sense of direction.

For many organizations and businesses the real problem is not in the planning but in the execution. Having a clear goal is great but unless you are willing and able to get your hands dirty and fight it out in the real world, your planning is mostly busywork.


Execution Hurts!

The challenge is that it’s in the execution of strategy where most of the discomfort lies. It’s where you have to actually work to engage, build and maintain real relationships with your customers and/or clients. It’s where you have to fight against all of those who want to keep you from achieving your goals (competitors, naysayers, critics, and even disengaged, combatitive and/or just plain lazy team members). And, most of all, it’s where the uncertainty of real life shows itself and mistakes are made.  

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Did you know the guillotine was invented to support a humanitarian, social justice mission? Neither did I… http://inventors.about.com/od/gstartinventions/a/Guillotine.htm





My near hockey fight is simply a reminder…in the real world, achieving goals is about so much more than just planning. You have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work. And occasionally, you will have to take a stand against those who are keeping you from achieving your goals. Yes it can be uncomfortable but think of it this way, if you truly believe in your mission/purpose and goals, then you should find the courage to do what you can to move them forward.
 
Now I’m not advocating fist fights and physical violence as a solution. My point is simply that if you want to play in a competitive game, you’re going to face opposition and conflict. Even the most noble missions spark a little fight sometimes…




“Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." (John 2:13)


Make no Mistake, Mistakes Will Be Made

Executing strategy means that occasionally you will have to learn from your mistakes after you’ve made them instead of spending all your time planning in hopes of avoiding mistakes altogether.


“It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." (Vince Lombardi)

I’ve been asked by organizations to help them do strategic planning with their group only to find that they already have a set of still relevant, agreed upon, and well-defined goals and priorities that they have yet to complete. In these cases, the answer is not to do more strategic planning. My response is to congratulate them and their previous facilitator/consultant for doing good work in the planning and then encourage them to look closer at what needs to be done to execute the strategy.

The bottom line is this, achieving (scoring) goals requires action and execution, not just planning.  


Key Takeaways:

1. If you truly believe in your mission, don’t be apologetic about it. Be willing to “fight” for it when necessary. That is where true leadership begins.

2. You can’t expect your team/employees to fight for your mission if they don’t know what the mission is. Clarify your purpose. Communicate your purpose. Repeat as necessary!

3. Sometimes “fighting” means reacting to conflict and opposition. Other times it just means being positive and proactive rather than passive.

4. Strategy without execution is nothing more than daydreaming. Get moving. Make mistakes. Take your knocks. Learn from them then get back up and keep fighting.

As always, I invite you to add your thoughts and comments.
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five Things We Should Be Teaching Our Kids…And Ourselves…And Our Leaders

Please note: If you clicked on this posting to find a political rant on our education system, you’re at the wrong place, sorry. The list below is written in the context of the education system but it’s really about teaching (and learning) about key principles for strategic leadership.      

Like children all over North America, my kids made their way back to school today. No doubt they will be learning fundamental skills and information that will last them a lifetime. They will also learn many things that they will forget and never need again as soon as they finish their academic
 career and get a job in the real world.

(For an interesting perspective on "useless" education have a read through this blog post by James Altucher but be forewarned Mr. Altucher's blogs are not for the politically correct as you can see from the title...





Personally, I appreciate the value of what our kids learn in school…even the “useless” things like π and 15th century English literature. (Hint: To be is much better than not to be!). However, I also think our general approach to education could better serve our future. So…in honor of the kids going back to school today, here are five things I believe we should be teaching our children...and ourselves…and our leaders.

1.  Purpose, direction and meaning – Whether it’s changing the world or changing flat tires. Each of us has our own unique blend of interests and passions. Many of us spend our entire lives trying to figure it out. We should encourage and support our kids to find and pursue theirs as early as possible. Purpose, direction and meaning is the stuff that drives creativity, art, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit! 



2. Effort and action is what leads to success – Lottery winners notwithstanding, most of the people we consider successful achieved their success through initiative and nearly fanatical commitment and hard work. Think of Sydney Crosby spending countless hours shooting hockey pucks, Justin Bieber and countless other "stars" refining and practicing voice and dance, master artisans working on their craft, the Beatles playing cover songs all night in German strip clubs for years straight, and how Bill Gates immersed himself in computer programming. Some call them "nerds". I'd call them committed, focused, and deserving of their achievements. Action/initiative, discipline and hard work is the stuff that drives success, not just luck and not just daydreaming and/or planning! (Entrepreneurs and organizational leaders, please take special note of this one!)

For the one or two people in the world who may not yet have read Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, he does a masterful job of discussing the role of effort (10,000 hours) in achieving success. Check out the Youtube link below and if I've set this up correctly, you can click on the link on the right if you're interested in buying the book.







Leaders aren't born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal. (Legendary Coach Vince Lombardi)

3. How to lead…and how to follow – Leadership and followership are two sides of the same relationship. Our popular notion of leadership is flawed and incomplete. Leadership is a shared activity. Even the Lone Ranger relied on his two partners Tonto and Silver.



Stay tuned for more on this notion of strategic leadership in a future blog post but for now I’ll simply assert that leadership and followership are skills that can, and should, be taught. Positive leader/follower relationships are the stuff that drives solutions!


4. Every opportunity also has a cost. – Everything we do in life involves choices. Every minute, every dollar, and every ounce of personal energy you spend on one thing is a minute, dollar or ounce of energy you can’t spend on something else. This is related to #1 and #2 above and it’s practical concept that can be directly applied to our daily decisions. I first learned the concept of “opportunity cost” in a university economics class. Why don’t we stress the concept earlier in life? Appreciating and applying the concept of opportunity cost in our decisions is the stuff that can help us make better choices in our personal lives,  in our work, and in our community life too! (Hint: It sure helps with strategic planning in organizations and businesses)



5. Tolerance, understanding and community– I don’t mean to get all Oprah about this but until we learn to appreciate, or at least respect each person’s unique perspective and value, our communities will continue to break down. Contrary to popular wisdom, there are actually many “I’s in team”. They’re called “individuals” and we need to encourage and teach our kids (and ourselves) to value their own true "nerdy" individuality…and to value and respect others in the same way. We shouldn’t be naïve about this. Unless every single person on earth suddenly became an altruistic saint, we will not be able to solve the world’s biggest problems. However, even the smallest increase in tolerance and understanding will help. Tolerance and understanding is the stuff that builds communities!



In my humble opinion, the concepts listed above are five essential elements of a valuable and productive education. I know from experience that schools do incorporate these in many ways, but I also believe there is room for improving how we teach (and learn) these “softer” skills. After all, learning  π  and 15th century English literature can only take you so far, right?

What would you add to this list? 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chasing the Ice Cream Truck - A Summertime Lesson on Action-Oriented Strategy

Do you remember when you were a child and you heard an ice cream truck approaching? I don’t know about your experience, but I can vividly picture that instant when the sweet sound of that carnival-like music hit our ears. Suddenly, our road hockey game (Stanley Cup Finals…Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens…always in overtime) didn’t seem so important. In a flash, every single kid dropped their hockey stick and sprinted all the way home yelling “M-O-M! I. NEED. MONEY!!!

As a kid, that ice cream truck represented pure opportunity. Even without hearing those bells yourself, the instant you saw one of your friends lift their head and look wide-eyed into the distance, you knew something good was approaching and you wanted in.

If you were lucky, everything fell in line and you got to enjoy that sweet cool treat and get back to the game. But it didn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, for various reasons, you ended up sprinting all the way back only to find the truck gone, or just as frustrating, one of your buddies had bought the last of the astro/twister/lickety pops and you had to settle for a runny, half-melted fudgy-something-or-other (yuck!). Even though that ice cream truck came around regularly, those of us who missed it would always feel like it would never, ever come back again. Oh the bitter disappointment of opportunity missed!

Wisdom from the 80s…Mullets, Moustaches and “Missed Opportunity” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gRqYHFja1k

Eventually, some kids got wise to the chronology of our neighborhood ice cream truck and we made sure we had our money ready BEFORE the truck came so that we could pounce on that opportunity when it presented itself (preparation!). But the real breakthrough came when we figured out that we didn’t have to wait for the opportunity at all. Instead of relying on opportunity to come to us, we went out and found it ourselves. Once we became mobile and free to roam beyond the street corner, we found our ice cream mecca was only a grocery store freezer away. No longer were we bound by the fickle and unreliable timing of that darned ice cream truck. We had become entrepreneurs and there was no keeping us from our rightful reward.

The lesson for today is simple. You can wait…and wait…and wait for opportunity to come to you, but if you really want to prosper, you have to actively, consistently and strategically chase it yourself.

As the sun shines warmly and nature colors her pages over the next two months, I hope you get an opportunity to chase an ice cream truck or two for old times sake, (try it in flip flops and remember to wave your $ bill in the air just like when you were a kid). But, after a go or two at this, remember that there is a better way to get your hands on that cool treat you desire.

“The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and   not react.” (George Bernard Shaw)


Focus!

Spend some time this summer season getting re-focused. (This is not a full-on strategic planning exercise. It’s more like a check-up. Or if you like sports or arts analogies, an intermission where you can take stock of your situation and confirm or adjust your strategy).

Although it’s getting more and more difficult, I’ve done this every summer for the past 17 years in my various roles and I find it extremely valuable. It’s so easy to get off-track when you’re plowing away at work so I use the summer as my intermission (i.e. a break to see where we’re at in our mission). I encourage you to do the same so your efforts remain focused towards your goals.

My approach is not fancy. I simply start with a blank piece of paper and start thinking and typing responses to basic strategic questions like…

  • What is our core mission/purpose?
  • What makes us unique and valuable to the clients we serve? What benefits do we provide them? What specific problems do we help solve (i.e. what “pains” do we take away?)
  • What are our biggest challenges/opportunities right now?
  • What are our main areas of expertise and what services do we offer at this time?
  • Who are the “right buyers” for these services?
  • What specific actions do we need to take to get these “right buyers” to work with us?
  • Etc.

My trick is to always start from a blank page. If you already have a strategic plan-type document, this may seem inefficient but I find it much more valuable. It helps me avoid just tinkering with existing plans and instead allows me to look at the situation from a fresh perspective. Once I’m done, I compare it to my previous plan document and shortlist what actions I need to focus on executing over the next quarter or two.

If you’re interested in seeing a more detailed example of my actual notes from this summer’s “re-focus”, go to my website at www.strategymakers.ca and send me a request with your email address.

Remember:
1. Focus.
2. Prepare.
3. Chase!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What does it take to be successful - 6 Factors

This blog is a short one…

What does it take to be successful? Let’s make a quick list…

1. Motivation – call it a dream, call it a vision or call it a “chip on your shoulder”. Doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s that inner (or outer) “voice” that keeps telling you that something must be done.

2. Initiative – you can’t win if you don’t play. Everybody daydreams of glory of some kind or another. How many people have the courage and drive to take action on those daydreams?

3. A solid,  but flexible/adaptable, Plan of Attack – Some people/teams like very detailed plans with “SMART” goals and clear accountabilities and lists…lots and lots of lists. Others have a certain disdain for that sort of thing and prefer to be more “entrepreneurial” and/or fly be the seat of their pants but even they have some concept of how they’ll move forward.

4. Practice and preparation – Even the fly by the seat of their pants type get better at what they do with preparation. After all, experience and “street smarts” are developed through practice.

5. Fight – Regardless of how good your plan is, if you’re not willing or able to fight it out in the trenches (execute your plan) you won’t be successful.

6. Luck/Fortune/Fate – Generally speaking, for every winner, there must be a “loser”. Fortune, whether good or bad, always plays a role too.

Don’t believe me? Watch tonight’s game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals (NHL hockey) and remember that each of the individual athletes was once a child at the local ice rink just learning to skate. Further, at the start of this season, both of these teams started with 0 wins, just like all the other teams they both knocked out of the competition earlier. Which team will be the one to capture glory? It will depend largely on the 6 factors listed above, no?

And by the way, it's not just about hockey or sports. Consider these 6 factors in any pursuit of success, from business, to art to environment, to social goals. It's the same factors, just a different context.


How is your organization/business doing in the context of these 6 factors? More importantly, what will you do about it?

Now I have to go…the game is about to start!

PS Regardless of who “wins”, I have a lot of respect for all of these athletes, coaches and the team people behind the scenes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Further Proof That Real Missions are Lived, Not Just Stated – A Winnipeg Story

Like most Manitobans, I’ve been following the media blitz about the return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg. If you’re from Canada, or just a hockey fan in general, you likely know what I’m talking about and why it’s such a big deal. If you’re not, bear with me here. This blog isn’t really about the return of the Winnipeg’s NHL hockey team. It’s more of a real world case study on what I wrote about last time – that real missions are lived, not just stated.

The return of Winnipeg’s hockey team offers a rare opportunity to analyze, in real-time and in a very public way, what it takes for a business/organization to successfully “complete” their strategic mission. And for anyone involved in leading a business or organization, the lessons are both compelling and especially relevant.


A (Very Brief) Background – A Mission is Born

There is much, much more to this story but here’s what you need to know for our discussion…The City of Winnipeg is a hockey town through and through. This community’s history and connection to professional hockey goes very deep but in 1994, for economic (and other) reasons, our professional hockey team (the Winnipeg Jets) left for new ownership in Phoenix. We lost our connection to professional NHL hockey which broke a lot of sports fans’ hearts but also bruised the collective ego of the entire community (i.e. we lost our claim to being a “world-class city” – at least according to some people).


Winnipeg’s hockey history in photos http://photogallery.thestar.com/999995

More about the history of the Winnipeg Jets http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winnipeg_Jets#Demise_and_relocation

Like any good conspiracy, there are lots of stories about what led to the demise of the Jets franchise in Winnipeg (http://www.manitobamythbusters.com/articles/day_jets_died_1.htm) but the important thing here is that in response to these events, and for reasons which I won’t presume to know, a group of individuals, led by a gentleman named Mark Chipman, made it their strategic mission to bring professional hockey back to the City of Winnipeg and here’s where the story becomes a valuable lesson for all of us.


A Mission Comes to Life

The lesson in all of this is that we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that missions are about statements. Missions are about ACTION!! You live them, you don’t talk just about them. Don’t get me wrong. Planning is important. Vision is important too. But, unless you’re rolling up your sleeves and getting to work you are not on a mission, you’re simply daydreaming out loud. Here’s my (simplified) observation of how Mr. Chipman and his leadership team put their mission into action…

* The mission is to bring professional hockey back to the City of Winnipeg where it belongs
1. Mr. Chipman’s group bought an AHL (“minor league professional hockey”) team and moved them to Winnipeg.
2. Mr. Chipman’s group and its private and public sector partners built the MTS center, widely recognized as a world-class sports and entertainment facility (and built specifically to house NHL hockey).
3. Then they executed their professional hockey/entertainment business, experimenting, learning, and refining their business model throughout.
4. They also patiently but actively monitored events around the NHL and engaged in a series of inquiries, discussions, and pitches with the intention of moving their mission to the next level.
5. When the window of opportunity finally opened, they jumped through it with the energy, confidence and commitment that you would expect from a group that had been preparing for this day from the moment their mission was born.



You can also find a more complete timeline and Mr. Chipman’s account here…



It’s What They Did That Counts Most!

Many in the media and business community will point to Mr. Chipman’s vision as the reason for his team’s success. Others will speak of his patience for the right opportunity. I agree with both sentiments but in my view it was the ACTIONS taken by him and his team that eventually led to the opportunity. After all, Mr. Chipman’s team didn’t spend the last 15 years planning and debating on paper. They were too busy executing and preparing.

The bottom-line is this…When it comes to your mission strive for less talk and more action!

Bonus tip: Think about breaking your mission down into achievable chunks and milestones. This way every end is a new beginning. Success is defined as a milestone achieved. Build this into your culture and mindset. Take time to celebrate successes and milestones achieved. Never stop growing. (Mr. Chipman’s group has already moved on to executing the next part of their mission, making NHL hockey in Winnipeg a viable and sustainable business. I congratulate them on their success to date and wish them all the best as they move ahead!)

PS I also apologize to Mr. Chipman and all of his partners for any inaccuracy or misunderstanding in my observations. This blog is intended with the utmost respect for what they have achieved as strategic leaders.
“I love it when a plan comes together” (Hannibal, The A-Team)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Aim for a Powerful and Inspiring Mission

I’m assuming that your organization/business has a mission statement, right? Okay, get a copy of that statement and put it right in front of you. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

…If I’m right, your mission statement probably reads something like this…



“The mission of (our organization/business) is to do really well at something that’s very important, while also trying to be good citizens”


(There are probably a few words like “striving”, “fostering”, “committed”, “excellence”, etc. thrown in for good measure too).

Now let me ask you this – does your mission statement inspire you? Does it express the heart of what your organization or business is working to build or create? Does it use powerful language that explains the fundamental purpose of the organization?

I’m guessing it doesn’t. Most mission statements fall short, often because they are put together through a group writing/editing exercise.  It’s extremely rare for that approach to result in a statement that captures the underlying commitment, motivation, passion that drives the people in the organization (see my previous blog post)


It’s not that I’m anti-Mission Statement…Honest!

I do understand the need for mission statements. They’re important for telling the outside world who you are and what you do. They’re also critical for helping your own people know what the organization stands for and is working to build. And in this day of information overload and attention-deficit, the need for brief, concise messaging is absolutely critical.

But let’s be honest, relying on a fluffy, unclear, generic mission statement to convey the importance of the value of your organization/business likely does more harm than good. I’m not against mission statements. I just think we need to put more emphasis on the mission part and spend less time worrying about the statement itself.


3 Tips for More Inspiring and Powerful Mission Statements

1. Be Like Mike
In my previous post I wrote about how Michael Jordan’s mission evolved over time. When reviewing your mission statement, focus on stating the fundamental purpose of your organization/business as you understand it today. There is no rule that your mission statement has to stay static. Missions evolve and mission statements can be continuously refined over time too.

2. Shoot for the Moon!
When US President John F. Kennedy sought support from Congress and the citizens of the country to invest an enormous amount of money and human effort to win the “space race”, he didn’t use a mission statement like this…


Our mission is to demonstrate to the world that, through a commitment to excellence and the utmost dedication and service, that our people, technology, and resolve is superior to our competitors and thereby fostering the principles of democracy, hope and freedom for all. (Mike’s words, not a quote)
While all of those components were present in his famous speeches, he stated the mission in a very simple and measurable way…



“I believe that 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 the earth.” (John F. Kennedy, 1961)
http://history.nasa.gov/moondec.html
President Kennedy’s approach is a perfect example of how a simple and measurable mission statement is more powerful and inspiring any day. Think about how you might be able to do the same with your mission statement.

3. Less Talk. More Action.
If you really want to demonstrate the value and importance of your organization and its purpose, get to work making that mission come to life, then use your valuable time and space (website, corporate literature, etc.) to show and tell people about all the ways you’re accomplishing your mission. After all, real life stories about how you’re putting your mission into action will always be more powerful than flowery vaguely-crafted statements.


 
The most important lesson...At the end of the day your mission statement is less important than you think. It’s not what you say. It’s what you do that counts most!