Leadership Distinction #13: Mission

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Your business is a Mission of service. Tell the world about it.

Lots of business people get confused between company Mission statements and vision statements. It’s time to clear this up, and in the process make our Missions clear. Let’s start by asking a few pertinent questions to stir the pot.

What problem are you intending to “treat” in your company? Note the distinction; I didn’t say “solve”. What group of people will be affected? What question are you helping to answer, and for whom? What do you enjoy committing yourself to provide for others? And finally, are your answers to these clarifying questions at all likely to change any time soon?

A purpose tends to have an extended duration to it, though it may not be timeless. Objectives, on the other hand are short-term horizons – points in the future at which you expect to arrive. You ‘reach’ your objectives; you don’t reach your purpose. A purpose is akin to a reason for being, not something that changes much, if ever. It’s got ‘why’ in it as well as ‘what’. And the only aspect of it that is likely to shift over time is the ‘how’.

A good example of an objective is a company vision – a 2-to-3 year horizon that describes — rather precisely if it’s to be of any use — what the company is going to look and feel like. This vision should be kept primarily within the awareness of those committed to bringing the vision about. Current customers may become uncomfortable if they were to think that your growth plans will leave them in the lurch, or that your profit goals will translate as just higher prices for them. A Mission statement, on the other hand, can and should be broadcast far and wide. Customers do want to see that your why lines up with theirs.

There is one exception to the hard distinction I’ve drawn here. Among types of Missions, explorations are a unique animal. They are blend of Mission and vision: a purpose that works on a tight schedule. Missions to be of service – such as yours on behalf of your customers, are not like that. Service Missions, unlike exploring missions, are refreshed and amended by their proponents, and also by the forces with which they contend. The Mission is the well from which imagination then conjures up intermediate company visions – future places to arrive at. But unlike future visions that must by necessity shift as circumstances change along the way, Mission continues on intact – for as long as do the people who own it, as their purpose for being.

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Episode 13