The potential pitfalls of crafting a mission statement for your organi

By J. W. Traphagan 5 minute Learn

Mission, imaginative and prescient, and worth statements have turn into ubiquitous throughout the enterprise panorama as leaders try to ascertain goals for their organizations and convey expectations about ethics and rules to staff, prospects, and different stakeholders. These statements are sometimes meant to unify staff round an organizational tradition that displays presumed frequent values and beliefs. In addition they perform as codes of ethics utilizing concepts reminiscent of dedication to range or integrity to characterize expectations in regards to the conduct of particular person staff and the group as a complete. 

Generally, the thought of creating these statements is thought to be optimistic and one can discover many websites that hold forth on the inspiring qualities of explicit statements. There may be usually a tacit assumption that such statements, if carried out properly, essentially assist to unify a company’s employees and, thus, strengthen the group by creating loyal, dedicated, completely satisfied, and productive staff.

Sadly, actuality isn’t fairly that easy.

Typically missed within the push by management to create these statements is the potential for the concepts they include to divide staff or scale back morale. An instance can be illustrative.

I train a one-day seminar on ethics, management, and tradition and several other years in the past was requested to take action at a museum. One of the issues I sometimes do to arrange is request the mission statement of the group in order that we will focus on it within the seminar. The museum supplied a mission statement that represented core values reminiscent of management, excellence, accessibility, and variety and tied these to the holdings and goal of the group. Looks like a good strategy, proper?

Within the course of the dialogue, nonetheless, it turned clear that the group was damaged into two distinct camps—the tutorial camp who labored on the higher flooring of the constructing and the front-line staff who labored beneath and met friends, cleaned flooring, and supplied safety. The statement is kind of summary and displays the concepts of the tutorial aspect of the group, as a result of they’re those who wrote it. Because the dialog emerged, it turned clear that the constructing itself was seen as symbolically representing the divided employees—the upstairs individuals who do issues like writing mission statements have been seen as distant by the downstairs individuals who work together with the general public. Not surprisingly, the demographics of the group mirrored the identical division at a racial degree. 

Phrases like “range” and “management” have been interpreted in another way by the 2 teams, with the upstairs folks seeing them as aspirational and the downstairs folks seeing them as reflecting the disconnect between management (upstairs) and staff (downstairs). In different phrases, the statement had come to represent the stratified standing hierarchy of the group, evident by occupational and racial disparities in participation on the management degree. And morale was low, as a result of downstairs folks felt not noted of the crafting and executing of professed mission and values that have been purported to unify the establishment round frequent goals and rules. 

If this have been the one instance, I would assume it was distinctive to that group, nevertheless it has come up usually. It even arose after I gave the identical seminar for services managers at my very own college—the mission of the college as advancing “society by analysis, inventive exercise, scholarly inquiry and the event and dissemination of new data” was perceived as failing to incorporate or replicate the significance of employees in maintaining the establishment working and functioning to attain these ends. I believe that notion was affordable. And, though I don’t know how that statement was created, I think it got here from excessive ranges of the administration.

The level of that is that these statements should not interpreted uniformly by members of a company. The phrase “range” is likely to be seen as aspirational for one group in a company whereas being seen as symbolic of blindness to racial or gender inequalities by one other group. Phrases like “integrity” can have variable meanings throughout people in a company. After we see the phrase “integrity,” does it imply that we act in accordance with organizational guidelines and insurance policies? Can we prioritize our private non secular beliefs over organizational goals and rules? Can we place the wants of the client over the need to earn enterprise and switch away prospects who may profit from a completely different firm’s merchandise?

At my college, discovery—outlined as “increasing data and human understanding”—is listed as a core worth. I’m satisfied everybody linked to the college is engaged in supporting that worth. But when employees don’t consider that their pursuits are represented within the mission statement of the group, in what methods may they interpret a core worth of discovery? It is likely to be seen as a worth that excludes these members of the tutorial neighborhood who should not engaged immediately in educational work like instructing and analysis.

Aspirational mission and worth statements might sound good in phrases of setting objectives, but when they aren’t accompanied by concrete and visual efforts to attain these aspirations, they are going to shortly be seen as symbolic of a company’s failures or might turn into seen as expressing or reinforcing divisions inside a company reasonably than bringing folks collectively. A single phrase, reminiscent of “integrity,” is very unlikely to be interpreted in the identical approach amongst all members of a company or amongst members of completely different teams that make up a company.

One resolution to this downside is to make sure that all stakeholders are engaged within the creation of mission and worth statements. Prime-down approaches are nearly assured to generate emotions of division, reasonably than unifying staff, as a result of folks at management ranges usually can’t see the group from the views of these engaged on the entrance traces. And if you happen to actually wish to know if your mission and worth statements are of any worth, one of the best factor to do is ask personnel from all ranges what they consider these statements—anonymously. You is likely to be shocked at simply how completely different these interpretations might be.


J.W. Traphagan is a professor in Human Dimensions of Organizations on the College of Texas at Austin. His most up-to-date guide is Embracing Uncertainty: Future Jazz, That 13th Century Buddhist Monk, and the Invention of Cultures. Comply with him on Twitter: @john_traphagan.