Mission & Vision Statements: 3 Reasons They Fail and One Trick to Make Yours Succeed

Mission and vision statements are serious business. Once companies are determined they need a new one, it’s remarkable how much time, effort, resources and consultation they can mow through to bring them to life. What’s worse, that effort can often result in mission and vision statements that are unused and forgotten. Why?

As a facilitator and consultant with a deep expertise in communications, I’ve seen many such statements come and go, and I’ve helped craft more than my fair share. From what I’ve learned, here are 3 of the most common reasons they fail and what you can do to make sure yours doesn’t:

Mistake 1: Mission and Vision Written for Form, not Function

Ask a CEO of a medium to large organization what their mission and/or vision statement is. Most of the time they can’t tell you or will paraphrase something that mildly represents it. That’s because most are jammed with too many buzzwords, are far too generic, or just plain too complicated. Sometimes they can say so much that they say nothing at all.

The hallmarks of a good mission and vision statement are clarity and authenticity. They should be easily repeatable and feel like a natural expression of your corporate self. The goal here should always be not just to have something that looks great but works great. Otherwise it’s like having a high-octane sports car parked in front of your house with no gasoline in it. It looks good, but it’ll get you nowhere fast.

Mistake 2: Mission and Vision Don’t Connect With Day-to-Day Activities

We often see organizations that have created a mission or vision statement they’re happy with. But ask a front-line employee how they can bring the mission or vision statement to life in their day-to-day activities and you’ll get some rather amusing blank stares. This is not the fault of the CEO or the employee. It is the fault of a commonly used process that seldom works.

In my experience, beginning with your own set of filters can go a long way to making sure you end up in the right pace. This is basically a way to battle-test your statements before you get too far down the road by asking the right questions:

  • Is it easy to remember?

  • Is it unique?

  • Is it on-brand?

  • Can this be applied to the front-line activities as well as the top-level planning?

The idea is to end up with something that can do more than just act as a North Star, but actually drive behaviour.

Mistake 3: There’s no Team Ownership

Buy in. It’s one of the few things that can make or break just about any project regardless of how much money and heavy lifting you put into it. Mission and vision statements are no different. Often they’re crafted by a small group and then pitched or “sold” to the rest of the organization. The problem is, those other people have absolutely no connection to the new vision and mission statements, and certainly no loyalty to them.

What invariably happens is a case of the “What ifs”. People naturally want to start tinkering with the words you’ve put together. “What if you changed this word? What if you changed that one? Have you thought about this other thing instead?” The next thing you know you’re shoe-horning in tweaks that don’t make sense just to get consensus. It’s perfectly natural for people to want their own stamp on the final product. After all, the mission and vision statements are there to guide everyone. So, working together up front in an efficient and collaborative way can save you mountains of agony in the end.

Secret to Making Your Vision & Mission Work: Process

As anyone who’s embarked on a mission or vision statement exercise can attest, pushing it across the finish line is not easy. In the effort to get it right, sometimes it can be a slow and arduous task. The secret weapon in our experience comes down to a single word: process.

Establishing the right process up front gives you the tools to move quickly through the maze of obstacles. It gives you insight into who needs to be involved and how much input they have in the final product. It makes sure the words you choose have impact, and the people who helped create them feel heard, valued and inspired. All the best words in the world won’t make something succeed if the process itself is broken.

So by starting with a process that’s tailored specifically for your challenge, you’ll not only generate buy-in, you’ll keep the momentum moving in a truly unstoppable direction.

Do you recognize some of the mistakes in your own organization? Barn Raisers can facilitate a mission and vision workshop and get you aligned for success.

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