Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing (your mission), where you’re trying to go (your vision), and how you’re going to go about it (your values) are the glue that holds an organization together. It is an essential part of building your strategic foundation and developing a strategy.
You preserve these elements while your strategies and goals change and flex with the market.
You may modify your mission, vision, or values over time, but the intent stays unchanged and you will have complete clarity when making critical business decisions that impact your future.
Your mission, vision and values can sound abstract, esoteric, and downright fluffy to a lot of people, especially those who are burning to move forward with a real-world project. These people don’t want to hang back conceptualizing about people’s wishes and dreams. Don’t let being pragmatic get in the way of this important stage of building a strong foundation of consensus for your organization. If you don’t take the time to articulate mission, values, and vision on the front end as you develop a strategy, you’ll pay for it later when writing goals and objectives without a crystal clear strategic direction.
With your planning team established and your schedule set, you’re ready to move into establishing or reviewing (if you already have these statements), your mission, vision and values. To efficiently move through this phase, don’t confuse mission and vision.
The Mission is a statement about your core purpose, why you exist, and is best stated in the present tense.
The Vision is a statement about your desired state, where you want to go, and is best stated in the future tense.
While you might find values interspersed throughout both your mission and vision, an effective values statement clearly delineates the guiding principles of your organization, how you want your staff to behave and interact.
Because these three statements are foundational to an effective strategic plan, take the time you and your team need to get them right. However, don’t get stuck on wordsmithing and lose momentum in your strategy development and planning process; rather focus on intent and allow them to be drafted until everyone is comfortable stamping them final.
Questions to Ask
- Who are we and why do we exist?
- Where are we going and why?
- What information do we need to make our strategic decisions?
- What are the strategic topics, issues we need to address through this process?
- What is already determined that we need to build off of?
- Current plan and financials
- Executive and staff ideas about the possible mission, vision and values
- Board’s vision (if applicable)
- External plans that you need to align with
- Draft mission, vision, values statements
- List of strategic issues that need to be addressed during the planning process
Mission statement – this part of your strategy development is your core purpose, the underlying “why” you are climbing the mountain, why you are in business. A mission statement is a declaration of your organization’s purpose and spotlights the business you are presently in and the customer/constituent needs you are presently endeavouring to meet. To build a solid foundation for a successful organization, it is essential to have a written, clear, concise and consistent mission statement that simply explains who you are and why you exist. Keep it short – Peter Drucker would say your mission should fit on a t-shirt.
Your mission statement should serve as a guide for day-to-day operations and as the foundation for future decision-making. Keep these guidelines in mind when writing or evaluating yours:
- Focuses on satisfying customer/constituent needs: A mission statement should focus the organization on satisfying customer/constituent needs rather than on a program or service. It tells “who” your customer/constituents are, “what” needs your organization wishes to satisfy and “how” these needs are satisfied.
- Based on your core competencies: Your organization should base its mission on a competitively superior internal strength, unique capability or resource that the organization performs well in comparison to similar organizations.
- Motivates and inspires stakeholder commitment: Your mission statement should be motivating. Your stakeholders need to feel that their work is significant and that it contributes to people’s lives.
- Realistic: Your mission statement should be realistic. You should avoid making the mission too narrow or too broad.
- Specific, short, sharply focused and memorable: It should be a precise statement of purpose that describes the essence of the organization in words your constituents and stakeholders can remember you by. It should “fit on a T-shirt.” “To serve the most vulnerable.” (International Red Cross)
- Clear and easily understood: Develop and write your mission statement on a “party level” (i.e. simple and clearly) so that you can quickly and briefly tell people you meet at a party or on aeroplanes why your organization exists. At the same time, it needs to give your team a profoundly simple focus for everything it does as an organization.
- 3M: To solve unsolved problems innovatively.
- International Red Cross: To provide relief to victims of disaster and help people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies.
- Boy Scouts of America: To preserve the values and benefits of wilderness for present and future generations by connecting agency employees and the public with their wilderness heritage through training, information, and education.
- Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.
- The Elephant Sanctuary: A natural-habitat refuge where sick, old, and needy elephants can once again walk the earth in peace and dignity.
- Fannie Mae: To provide liquidity, stability and affordability to the U.S. housing and mortgage markets.
- Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
- Walmart: We save people money so they can live better.
- Marine Stewardship Council: To safeguard the world’s seafood supply by promoting the best environmental choices.
- Marriott Hotels: To make people who are away from home feel they are among friends and really wanted.
- Merck: To operate a worldwide business that produces meaningful benefits for consumers, our market partners and our community.
Values are enduring, passionate, and distinctive core beliefs, and they’re an essential part of developing your strategy. They are based on enduring tenets—guiding principles—to adhere to no matter what mountain you climb. Your core values are part of your strategic foundation. They are the beliefs that guide the conduct, activities and goals of your organization. They establish why you do what you do and what you stand for. Values are deeply held convictions, priorities, and underlying assumptions that influence the attitudes and behaviours of your organization. Strong values account for why some organizations gain a reputation for such strategic traits as leadership, product innovation, and total customer satisfaction. These never change.
An organization’s values can dominate the kind of strategic moves it considers or rejects. When values and beliefs are deeply ingrained and widely shared by directors, managers and staff, they become a way of life within the organization, and they mold organizational strategy.
Here are some guidelines in developing core values:
- Keep the list of values to between five and seven. They need to be memorable to your staff.
- Create phrases, but not paragraphs. One word is not enough to convey the real meaning of value.
- Make these values specific, not generic. It takes more than one word to define specificity.
- Values need to be shared. While you don’t need consensus from everyone in your organization, you do need agreement from senior leadership.
- If it’s already stated in your mission, do not repeat it. Some values-driven language may be part of your mission statement. That’s fine, but consider not repeating what you have covered elsewhere.
Here is what Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines had to say about core values. “We always felt that people should be treated right as a matter of morality. Then, incidentally, that turned out to be good business too. But it didn’t really start as a strategy. It began with us thinking about what is the right thing to do in a business context. We said we want to really take care of these people, we want to honor them and we love them as individuals. Now that induces the kind of reciprocal trust and diligent effort that made us successful. But the motivation was not a strategy, it was core values.”
Vision statement – this statement reflects the specific mountain you are currently trying to climb – the “where.” A vision is a picture of what your organization’s future makeup will be and where you are headed. Vision provides a clear mental picture of what your organization will look like in 5 to 10 years from now. Forming a strategic vision should provide long-term direction, delineate the organizational activities to be pursued and the capabilities the organization plans to develop, and infuse the organization with a sense of purposeful action. It serves as a unifying focal point for everyone in the organization like a North Star. It delineates the future focus and where the organization is going.
Visions are also referred to as Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals or BHAGs. Here are two examples of visions or BHAGs that were very lofty at the time they were established:
- We will put a man on the moon before the end of the decade and bring him back. (JFK)
- A computer on every desk and in every home using great software as an empowering tool. (Microsoft)
An effective vision statement consists of the following elements. Your vision statement may or may not incorporate all of these elements, but keep them in mind when writing or evaluating yours.
- Futurecasting: Provides a picture of what your business will look like in the future.
- Audacious: Represents a dream that is beyond what you think is possible. It represents the mountaintop your organization is striving to reach. Visioning takes you out beyond your present reality.
- Motivating: Clarifies the direction in which your organization needs to move and keeps everyone pushing forward to reach it.
- Purpose-Driven: Worded to give your staff a larger sense of purpose–so they see themselves as “building a cathedral” rather than “laying stones.”
- Inspiring: Worded in engaging language that inspires and engages people. It creates a vivid image in people’s heads that provokes emotion and excitement. It creates enthusiasm and poses a challenge that inspires and engages people in the organization.
- Capitalizes on Core Competencies: Builds on your organization’s core competencies. It builds on what you have already established – history, customer/constituent base, strengths, and unique capabilities, resources and assets.
- Chemtura: To grow a global portfolio of leading speciality chemical businesses, committed to innovation and the creation of value for our stakeholders.
- DuPont: To be the world’s most dynamic science company, creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, and healthier life for people everywhere.
- Heinz: To be the world’s premier food company, offering nutritious, superior tasting foods to people everywhere.
- Susan G. Komen for the Cure: A world without breast cancer.
- Novo Nordisk: To be the world’s leading diabetes care company.
- Pershing General Hospital: To become the provider of first choice for our community by being a leader in rural healthcare and offering innovative technologically advanced services.
- Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic: For all people to have equal access to the printed word.
- Mattel: To be the premier Toy Brand—today and tomorrow.
- McDonald’s: To be the world’s best quick-service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness, and value so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile.
- Amazon: Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
Identify Your Competitive Advantages
A competitive advantage is simply the answer to: “What is your organization best at?” Your competitive advantage is what your organization does or potentially could do better than similar organizations. One result of a well-developed and executed strategic plan is to develop a unique competitive advantage. It is what you do best that draws customers/constituents to use your products and services instead of those of others. Successful organizations deliberately make choices to be unique and different in activities that they are really, really good at and they focus all of their energy in these areas.
A sustainable competitive advantage(s) is the foundation, the cornerstone of your strategic plan. Successful companies strive to create an advantage that continues to be competitive over time. Throughout the planning process, you will need to evaluate every part of your plan to determine whether it supports or detracts from this.This statement should be no longer than one or two sentences or a couple of bullet points. Keep in mind that you should be able to effectively explain what your company does within 30 seconds—or else you could lose your listener. Think of it as your organization’s DNA – a collection of attributes that makes you unique. Your organization exists for a very specific reason and has unique abilities, and most likely its purpose is different than any other company out there. Companies are founded for reasons as varied as something to do during retirement to making the world a better place. You might consider asking your employees for their perspective as well, when you survey them. You may be amazed at the insightful comments you receive.
Later, when developing your goals, make sure to include goals that nurture and grow your competitive advantage. You should also make sure that your competitive advantage is something that is long-lasting and not easy to duplicate.
Consider the criteria below to see if you’re on the right track:
- Consistent difference: Customers must see a consistent difference between your products/services and those of your competitors. This difference needs to be obvious to your customers, and it must influence their purchasing decision.
- Difficult to imitate: Your competitive advantage must be difficult to imitate. You want to have an advantage that your competition cannot easily duplicate. This might be in the form of people, proprietary knowledge within your organization, or business processes that are behind the scenes.
- Constantly improved: The first two bulleted items above must create activities that can be constantly nurtured and improved upon in order to maintain an edge over the competition.
- Clothing Manufacturer: Wearable clothing because “Our clothes fly off the racks.”
- Financial Services Firm: Ranked in the top 10 percent of money managers who beat S&P nationally. Fastest-growing American Funds money manager in ’00, ’01, & ’02. The only firm ever featured by American Funds in its advisory newsletter.
- Interior Design Firm: Increasing developers’ sales ratio by 35 percent. The only design team chosen by the top 10 luxury developers in the state.
- Pershing General Hospital: Provides high-quality emergency, primary care, and retail pharmacy within its area. Staffs the hospital with personnel that have superior knowledge to support efficient operations. Offers the best care possible by maintaining its full staff of highly-experienced nurses.
- Abbott: Creating a product portfolio that lowers the cost of health care.
- Fannie Mae: Could become the best capital markets player in anything that pertains to mortgages.
- Gillette: Could become the best at building global brands of daily necessities that require sophisticated manufacturing technology.
- Wells Fargo: Could become the best at running a bank focused on the western United States.
An organization-wide strategy establishes a way to match your organization’s strengths with opportunities so that your organization comes to mind when people have a need. An organization-wide strategy is like an umbrella. It is a general statement(s) that guides and covers a set of activities. It answers the question “how.” It explains how strengths usually fall into two broad categories: cost advantage and differentiation. When you apply these strengths to a market that’s either large and varied or small and homogeneous in its needs, three basic strategies result:
- Using operational excellence to provide the lowest total cost
- Using continued innovation to provide product or service leadership
- Providing complete customer intimacy through knowing their needs and wants
By consistently executing an organization-wide strategy or a strategy that consistently guides how you create value, you can provide a product or service that’s better than your competition.
Creating value through excellent operations
Creating value through excellent operations focuses on appealing to a broad spectrum of customers based on being the overall low-cost provider of a product or service because of the organization’s focus on efficiency. The organization implementing this strategy provides superior value to its customers by offering them the lowest total cost.
An operationally excellent value proposition sounds something like this: “We offer products and services that are always consistent, on-time, and low in cost.” Check out these goals if you’re executing this strategy:
- To continually offer the most attractive prices.
- To purchase and source from the lowest-cost suppliers.
- To offer excellent and consistent quality.
- To ensure that our company has a good product or service selection.
- To make buying from our company easy and fast.
To reach your goals, you need to master your operational processes. This process includes monitoring outstanding supply chain management, super-efficient operations to control costs, cycle time and quality, and inventory management.
Companies that continue to offer the best buy or lowest cost through their excellent internal operations include Walmart, Southwest Airlines, Dell, and Ikea.
Creating value through product/service leadership
This strategy concentrates on creating a unique, innovative product or service line. An organization implementing this strategy provides superior value by offering its customers a continuous stream of innovative products or services. It seeks to identify emerging opportunities and continuously strives to develop and deliver new products and services.
A product and/or service leadership value proposition sounds something like this: “We offer products and services that expand existing boundaries past what was thought possible.” To execute this strategy, your goals may look something like the following:
- To strive to be first-to-market with new products, services, or functionality.
- To always produce leading-edge products and services that exceed the performance of competing products.
- To maintain higher prices than competitors because of the superior product.
- To reach new customer groups.
You need to master your innovation processes and develop an innovation culture to reach your goals. These steps include a pipeline full of new ideas, a conversion rate of ideas to production, excellent and quick product development processes, and marketing and sales departments that can bring the product to market quickly.
Companies that are always on the cutting edge of their industries include Intel, Mercedes, Sony, and Salesforce.com.
Creating value through customer intimacy
Creating value through really knowing your customers concentrate on a narrow market segment by a deep understanding of its customer and their perception of the value of the product or service offered. A company implementing this strategy provides superior value by tailoring its products or services to match exactly the needs of targeted customers. It specializes in satisfying unique customer needs through an intimate knowledge of the customers.
A customer intimacy value proposition sounds something like this: “We provide the best total solution to our customers because we make a practice of knowing exactly what they need.” Try to fashion your goals around the examples below:
- To ensure that our customers feel like we understand them by continually engaging in market research and responding to it.
- To provide customized products and services to meet their needs.
- To stress exceptional customer service.
- To install and effectively use a customer relationship management system.
- To offer and sell a complete solution (selling multiple and bundled products and services).
Develop a customer-focused culture to attain these marks. These procedures include offering as many products and services that your customers are looking to you to provide – meaning that you completely solve the problem or need that your customers have.