PLEASE, Not Another Mission Statement Exercise!

PLEASE, Not Another Mission Statement Exercise!

“Welcome everyone!” said the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, high-energy, strategic planning consultant. “Today we’re going to do something together that will engage everyone in the room and be ground-breaking for the organization.”

She paused, maximizing the moment. She had everyone’s attention. Just before everyone’s attention waned, she said, “We are going to write a new mission statement!”

Thud! Boom! The energy level in the room plummeted followed by a loud, collective groan.

“Not again,” said one influential Board member in a not-so-quiet stage whisper.

“Kill me now,” said another.

“We just went through this last year—and the year before!” another Board member said.

Some of the other verbal responses were less delicate (read: saltier). One key person even got up and left the room. Forever.

If you’ve never been to a meeting where the mission statement was revisited, reimagined, realigned, re-whatever-ed, then count yourself among the lucky. I once sat in a consultant-facilitated meeting for four hours while the group argued over changing one adjective in the mission statement, and it was still an incoherent mess in the end.

Why is it that consultants like to revisit the mission statement so much? Is it because it’s so critical or because it’s an easy target? Or is it a no-brainer? Does it take little or no preparation?

Yes, yes and yes. And the most likely reason? It takes up the time for which the consultant is getting paid!

Believe it or not, there was a time when there was no such thing in nonprofit organizations as a vision, a mission statement or a strategic plan. Most nonprofits didn’t even have goals, much less measurable ones. Those organizations got a lot done, but targeted efficiency and proven effectiveness were not among them.

Mission statements do have a purpose, of course, and a vital one. The late Steven Covey said:

“A mission statement is not something you write overnight… But fundamentally, your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”

If your mission statement does not do all of those things, then it’s time to revisit it. However, if you are rewriting it every other year, something is amiss.

The mission statement has a purpose (and quite a lot of it according to Covey.) So why do people hate sitting through the creation of one so much? I’ll tell you: too many mission statements are too full of gobbledygook to be useful. Some mission statements sound like they are trying to sound like a mission statement. And let’s face it, when they wrote the darn thing, they probably were.

So how do you make a mission statement that leads to something like what Covey proposes? You have to make it specific, succinct, and straightforward.

Specific: A mission statement needs to communicate what you are trying to do. When a person finishes reading it, they should know why you are in business. I like Google’s mission statement:

“To make the world’s information universally accessible and useful.”

Succinct: A mission statement needs to be specific, yes, but it but doesn’t need to be all-inclusive. In other words, tell them what you are going to cook but leave out the ingredient list. Here is a great example from Amazon:

“To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Straightforward: When it comes to mission statements, you should never need to use a dictionary app to figure out what it’s trying to say. The best mission statements use simple language, accessible to anyone that reads. An exceptional example of this isVirgin Atlantic’s Mission Statement:

“To grow a profitable airline, where people love to fly and people love to work.”

If you want more examples of unique mission statements, take a look at this handy article on specimentemplates.org.

Having a strategic, well-thought-out mission is critical. Communicating it with specific, succinct and straightforward language, however, is essential. Otherwise, you might have a statement, but it’s unlikely to get any mission accomplished.

Basking in Beethoven (or “How I Tolerate Working Out”)

"Pretty Weights Are NOT Lighter!"

I don’t like to gossip but there’s a woman in my gym who works out at the same exact times I do. She talks incessantly to her trainer at a pitch and volume that would make fingers on the blackboard sound soothing. I’m not usually bothered by such behaviors but try as I might not to listen, the highly personal content–I mean HIGHLY personal–is something that does not belong in a public place. It’s not my gym nor a battle I want to take on so have chosen not to say anything to her. However, I may have to make an extra trip to the dentist to repair the damage done to my teeth from gritting.

What to do? There’s always tv noise or rock music blaring when I walk in so asked my trainer if he would play some classical music—loud. The first delicious sounds were of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. At first I struggled to block out the lady’s powerful voice and focus on the music. But then, the lovely chords came through.

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Art Linkletter: A Fond Farewell

“Guess who’s coming to Grand Forks,” my mother said when I answered the phone one January morning in 1998.  Before I could ask who, she blurted it out:  “Art Linkletter!”  Her words transported me back to 1954 and for a moment, I was a fourth grader again. We were the first family on the block to get a television set and I have wonderful memories of gathering around the set after school to watch “Art Link letter’s House Party.”

Art, a television pioneer far ahead of today’s reality programming gurus, tickled his audiences every day by rummaging through the purse of a delighted audience member to see what embarrassing item he would find or giving one of his famous deadpan expressions when a child gave a startling answer in his “kids say the darndest things” segment. My mother thought that Art Linkletter walked on water—my having met him was a seminal achievement in her eyes!

I only met Art because of his wife Lois, one of the warmest most giving people I’ve ever known. I was thrilled when she’d agreed to become a member of the Board of Directors for Children’s Bureau of Los Angeles.  I had been the Executive Director there for several years and was in the process of trying to strengthen our Board.  Lois rolled up her sleeves and began working on the agency’s future from day one. Though long retired from daily broadcasting, Art’s many talents kept him engaged in writing best selling booking, overseeing international business interests, appearing in television commercials and, occasionally, making public appearances.  In no time, Lois also had Art thoroughly involved in working on behalf of the interests of the abused children and troubled families who we served.  Over the years I had come to know and treasure them both.

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Leadership Lessons from “Non-Cooking”

“So how do you relate your cooking problems to leadership?”   You might be suprised to hear that I’ve heard this question more than once from those who know of my frustrating and disastrous experiences as a noncook.  I can’t boil eggs—literally!

The answer to the question about cooking and leadership is–a lot.  In another era of my life, I spent hours trying to cook something edible every night, succeeded rarely, feeling like a failure often. Then, I stopped trying (except occasionally which always proved I should stay out of the kitchen) and focused on the many skills I have in other areas.  I also found a partner who would accept me for what I was and was not.  This gave me the freedom to develop my skills and to compensate for my “weaknesses” (i.e., psychological traits and energies over which I have no control.)

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I-OUTOFIT

I am very fond of my friend Mary’s two children and when I saw her son Tony’s name highlighted on my facebook site, I sent a “be my friend” message. A short while later, I was pleased to receive a Facebook alert from the child and clicked on the link.

“I don’t really friend adults,” read the message. My first reaction was “how cute,” and forwarded the email to Mary. As I was writing the message, I realized that this wasn’t cute. It was the direct result of parental protection. “You can be on Facebook with these conditions and the first one is: NEVER accept Friend invitations from adults.” I complimented Mary on a strategy that was obviously working.

Tony used the word “friend” as a verb! My thoughts immediately raced back to Miss Osland in honors English my first year in college.  Miss Osland might have stroked out at such a desecration of her English.

I don’t friend adults. As usual, I went straight to google and typed in “’friend’ as a verb, expecting little or nothing. 5,040,000 hits! 

The first question in my mind is, “How does the world change that fast?” But, we all know the answer to that question. The speed of technology long ago surpassed the speed of light or whatever the fastest thing we know is. The real question is how are we keeping up? Or more important when we can’t keep up, how do we find our place in this new world, which is both unbelievably exciting and as unbelievably terrifying?

John Junson is a great cartoonist and colleague. In a recent cartoon* he shows a character talking about being asked to learn ipod, iphone and other “I words” in one day. In the next frame, the character says, “I-OLD.” My friend could have added: “I-OUTOFIT”—sometimes a much scarier scenario.

I wish I had answers for my questions. I don’t.  But I know how I am a surviving—and thriving—in my retirement years. First, I started an entirely new career doing only what I want to do, love to do and am good at. Second, I spend every free minute exploring, learning and testing new ideas. Yes, it will help my brain develop new cells that will help keep me from senile dementia. But, more than that, it’s adding excitement, novelty, energy and enthusiasm to my life—in a way I don’t recall ever experiencing. Of course, that could be the dementia trying to grab a foothold. I don’t think so. I have discovered a way of life that is redefining life—and aging–for me. I just wish I had found it sooner!

“My mother says I look like a head of lettuce in this outfit!”

The tall, attractive and very sophisticated Fox News personality walked to her chair wearing a lime green suit. The talk show host introduced her, then said, “Greta, that’s a great suit!”

“My mother says I look like a head of lettuce in this outfit,” Greta Van Susterman said.

I didn’t hear the rest of the interview, because I was laughing too hard.  That was two years ago, but the image of Greta’s gorgeous head on top of a head of lettuce has never left me. Or the idea that this highly successful, world recognized, and very conservative broadcaster was still being driven by her mom’s opinions.

Those of us who have lost our mothers might even yearn to hear their voices again. But whether our parents are alive or not, we often hear their voice in our head all the time. In my case, I remember, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”  For many years, I assumed it meant don’t sweat the small stuff, remember what’s important, etc—valuable lessons.  Later I figured out that the phrase also implied her unspoken motto: “Never, never engage in conflict with anyone.”

If an attempt to follow is made, it might help keep an artificial peace—for awhile. But in business, the manager who avoids conflict at all costs is not managing. Rather he/she is stirring a pot of tasks, duties and people. Constructive conflict, as Patrick Lencioni has defined so clearly, is required for creative problem-solving and generating the commitment needed for effective performance. As Lencioni makes clear, you can never get the best results if you aren’t hearing the opinions of all of your team—and that requires managed conflict.

This brings me to a question raised by many others:  were/are our parents right or wrong in the advice, admonishments and corrections they gave us?

Years ago I read the book “Games Mother Never Taught You” by Betty Lehan Harragan. It left me with my jaw dropping to realize what was out there in the world that I had no awareness of—and of which my mother was totally ignorant. Then I begin to wonder:  what else didn’t she know about?  How did her experience shape her advice and admonishments?  Maybe she wasn’t always right…

Perhaps that’s what all grown ups come to realize eventually.  That might even be one definition of maturity.  But then what about Greta?  Why does her mother still have so much power over her?  Not malicious power at all.  Mom’s trying to be helpful.  But most mothers have no training in effective communication skills.  Few understand how to offer comments that don’t put the person on the defensive.  Even if Greta’s mom had training, the comment might sound unkind to some.  But what if it were said in jest.  What if Greta and her mom are best friends, and that’s the way they talk to each other?  I will never know, but I probably won’t lose the head of lettuce image of Greta.  Somehow I don’t think it would bother Greta in the slightest.