mission mosaic

Mission statements are like ballroom dance-- a bunch of words dressed up in sequins and fancy (sometimes garish) make-up. The best have flow and are beautiful in the moment but they're all short and rarely memorable. The impact is fleeting.

Where watching Dancing with the Stars is fantastically entertaining, crafting mission statements is an waste of time. The exercise we put ourselves through takes way too long, involves only a select few, and is focused on the wrong things (word-smithing vs. motivating.) In the end, we emerge with a polished, important-sounding statement that is often forgotten as soon as we click "save as, final."

There is an alternative that takes less time, involves everyone, and drives consensus around the action instead of the words. The bottoms-up exercise is distributed and simple. Traditional approaches have made mission and vision something that must be defined for staff instead of by staff.  But, what is much more motivating is for people to define mission for themselves then ask them to be accountable to what naturally drives them.  It's OK-- actually better-- if each person takes a different angle.

First, ask someone who's really busy with other work to write down the organization's purpose. Why?  Busy people get more done and won't overthink it. The purpose statement should reflect why the group created to begin with.  Writing out the words within the office's acronym might get you 99% there!

Next, invite everyone to put some thought into what really excites them about the work they do, what they most look forward to, what they spend extra time reading about and researching, etc. In what aspect of the organization's purpose do they see their personal mission? Ask everyone to post these publicly.

Once the unique mission statements are completed and posted, step back and marvel at the mosaic-- a deeply personal and high-impact image of the true organizational mission.