What are your thoughts of a Mission or Purpose Statement? Here are three anecdotes on how they may impact an organization and an individual in that organization.

First scenario. A senior vice president reporting directly to the CEO was promoted to the next level when his boss retired. On assuming the position of leading a national 2000 strong operation, he decided to update their mission statement. His goal was to set the tone for his leadership and organizational culture.

To accomplish the task, he created an ad hoc team of five individuals at the director level, from different parts of the organization. He personally provided the team his vision for the organization, how he intended to lead, and the culture he was after. He also told them it needed to be one page and to be representative of the entire organization. Hence, the ad hoc team.

After a couple of cycles back and forth, he took what the team produced and reflected on it for a couple weeks. To test the new version he brought together a team of a dozen directors for critique and feedback. He took the feedback, made some minor changes, and published it.

The result; a one page mission statement with a second page of defining terms and concepts. He has since rolled it out across his enterprise. Traveling and speaking often, it is the starting point of every meeting. It has become integral in the onboarding process and is used to help guide decision making.

Second scenario. A new vice president moving from another part of the organization is replacing her predecessor who was recently promoted. In her new role she will be picking up and executing a reorganization engineered by her predecessor. She knows and has been part of the parent organization for 20 years however, has never worked in this area. The organization is just under 1000 total people, globally dispersed.

As she is building her understanding of the reorganization, she asked the question: “What is the mission or purpose statement that drove the reorganization?” The response was there was a lot of direction but not a single specific mission statement.

She responded by having the top three individuals involved with the reorg to develop a mission statement. She wanted to ensure she heard the thoughts from the people closest to the process.

This is an ongoing task. The end state will be a concise mission statement, she will take to the CEO for concurrence. Once approved it will provide clarity on the direction she is taking the organization.

Last scenario. My client is a mid-level employee who made a lateral move to a new team of nine. Her assessment of her new team is they are very professional with each member taking pride in the work they deliver. They deliver training throughout the corporation and it is a sub unit in a branch that is being reorganized. The team members believe they will continue in their overall role of training however, some projects may move and responsibilities may change. None of this is definite and the dearth of communication is a source of anxiety for the team members.

Here is a question I asked:
“If you were to ask each team member what the purpose of the team was, do you think you would get the same answer from everyone?”

I received an emphatic “Oh no, absolutely not!”

“When do you think you will have some more guidance?”

“Maybe in another 30 days or so.”

Taking the three anecdotes together what are your take aways?

For me, I see the first two as leaders deliberately ensuring they have defined the mission. Setting the direction for the organization right from the top.

The last scenario is an example of the negative impact the lack of a mission or purpose creates with those doing the work.

What have you experienced in your career?

In the research by J. Richard Hackman, he empirically determined a clear compelling purpose is an essential condition for a high performing team.

The first two leaders were taking great pains to develop that purpose. The third was a team without direction.

As a leader we owe our team a clear compelling purpose.