Strategically Speaking

The Path - by Benjamin Ellis
Serendipity is putting mission and strategy in the middle of my world. They are curiously emotive terms, dividing people into either cynics or firm believers in a single breath.

My passion for strategic planning has caused me to dig into these topics many times over the years. I firmly believe that you get the best results by being focussed, and by playing for the long term. Taking short cuts and only acting tactically results in burn outs and blow ups. This series of posts walks through a framework based on vision, mission and values, exploring how they are constructed and how they function.

Is Mission a Dirty Word?

The ‘mission’ word, like the ‘strategy’ word, is often abused these days. Recently I heard someone say “we have a strategy of handing out leaflets”. That isn’t a strategy. It is doing things. Doing things is valid, but don’t be fooled into thinking that doing things is the same as having a strategy. Herb Kelleher, of Southwest Airlines, once said “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things” – that probably says a lot about the airline industry. To be fair, Kelleher’s preceding words were “‘Strategy’ overrated, simply ‘doin’ stuff” underrated”, and I’d agree with the sentiment. All strategy and no doing is not going to get you far, but neither will doing with no strategy. The majority of people and small businesses don’t have a mission statement, and so end up all ‘doin’ and no strategy. Big businesses, in contrast, often end up all strategy and little doing. To be effective, you need a foot firmly in each camp.

Writing off the Mission

A strategy is the series of plans carried out to achieve the mission. Many people don’t like the idea of having a formalised, written ‘mission statement’ and see them as nasty, cheesy things. Good mission statements are actually exciting, motivating and empowering. Sorry to drag films into it, but if you aren’t convinced about the power of mission, think about great spy film heroes, think Mission Impossible II or James Bond. But this isn’t the stuff of fiction, studies have revealed strong links between clearly written mission statements and success. If you want to get to ‘mission accomplished’ you need one foot in the doing camp, and one foot in the strategy camp

Don’t Waste Any Time

Mission gives purpose to how time is spent. It guides actions and informs plans. If you haven’t got a mission, you can’t have a strategy, and if you haven’t got a strategy, then you are just ‘doing stuff’. There is much more to life and business than spontaneous actions, driven by life’s random events. Writing down things down flushes out differences of opinion. In the case of personal mission statements, it can surface internal conflicts. These hidden tensions hold up progress and waste valuable time.

When mission statements are implicit, people often believe that everyone is on the same page. That belief is misplaced. The process of writing thoughts down makes things explicit and concrete, enabling clarification and debate. Only then do the hidden conflicts surface – sometimes to the great consternation of those involved. People realise that there are different things in different people’s heads, at different times. Writing things down crystallises thinking and is the first step to resolving these conflicts and creating consistency.

One Step At a Time

Getting to a mission statement and building out a strategy is a process. All it requires is a few simple steps and the upfront investment of some time. Are you ready to accept your mission?

In part II, what is vision, and why do you need it?