When you set out to begin articulating the vision, mission, and purpose of your non-profit, business, or organization, it will inevitably feel daunting. These words tend to be thrown around haphazardly and interchanged without much thought. When, in fact, they describe and point to very specific aspects of your organization. While related, they each need to be addressed singularly at first. So, let’s begin —
The Why — Choosing a Mission that Matters
The first step you will take on this journey is to articulate your mission. The mission of your organization should address exactly why you are trying to accomplish it. Many times people will get caught in talking about how they are going to do something. Do not get confused, the how is the strategy. The mission is the what.
Your mission statement ought to be sharp and focused. Or as Kevin Starr said in his article The Eight-Word Mission Statement, it should be “long enough to be specific and short enough to force clarity.”
In order to hone in on what exactly you are setting out to accomplish, you will want to look more broadly at your organization’s purpose. The purpose is closely linked to mission, in that it articulates your fundamental reason for existing.
A well-defined mission will guide your business, motivate your team, and will inspire your customers. By articulating your mission clearly, you will be able to use it as a litmus test when faced with a decision. You will be able to simply ask yourself — does this move me closer or further from my mission? Additionally, in order to measure the impact of your organization, you need to know what you’re setting out to accomplish.
So, what exactly should a mission statement do? Well, the authors of Engine of Impact suggest it should accomplish six key things:
- Be focused
- Solve unmet public needs
- Leverage distinctive skills
- Inspire and be inspired by key stakeholders
- Be timeless
- Be sticky
The Core — Value is the Very Essence
Actually writing down or distilling a company’s core values can be difficult. They are abstract and at times hard to articulate. However, your organizational values are the “essential enduring tenants.” These values are what runs through all aspects of your organization — the work, the people, the places, and the customers.
This culture, created through well-articulated values, creates principles that in turn give your employees direction. Since these things can often seem symbolic and conceptual you will need to begin broadly. Write down everything you value as a company, literally everything. Go crazy. Now go through that list and narrow it down to 10 things you value. And again, return to the list and distill even further to five items or ideas. Especially within the nonprofit and development space, this may result in something like — all humans should have access to clean drinking water.
The reason it is so important to articulate not only your mission but also your value is that these values and beliefs will help guide you when you begin addressing your intended impact and your theory of change. As these processes are iterative, you will return again and again to hone your strategy through core values and hard data collection. While the world may shift dramatically around your organization, your values should be unchangeable and enduring.
The Beyond — Vision of the Future
As you continue to design the foundation of your organization, you will what to have a well-defined vision. This is where you apply your mission and value; vision addresses what you wish to be in the future. In other words, your vision is mission + culture + strategy. As a visionary company, you will be able to hone your vision to articulate your core ideology.
In his article Demystifying the Development of an Organizational Vision, Mark Lipton talks at length about how vital vision is as an organizational tool. After all “concrete performance measures such as profit, return on shareholder equity, employee turnover and rate of new product development improve” when you use vision as a strategic tool to measure and manage organizational culture.
Beyond the symbolism of organizational vision, you might be asking yourself, but why? What is the actual point of identifying your vision? According to Lipton, managing with vision will benefit your organization in five key ways:
1. It enhances a wide range of performance measures
2. It promotes changes
3. It provides the basis for a strategic plan
4. It motivates individuals and talent
5. It helps keep decision-making in the context
Only when you have taken the time to reflect on what is driving your organization or brand, will you truly be able to grow. Your language matters. Find out what makes you move, what fires you up. Take that idea and craft it into your vision of a better world. Let that vision be built upon values that are timeless and enduring. Then, work together with your team (or by yourself!) to articulate what disparities or gaps in the market you want to address, and craft a mission that directly impacts that issue. Be specific, but do not box yourself in. Enduring social impact requires that you embrace being both visionary and pragmatic.