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  • Writer's pictureRussell E. Willis

Mission and Vision: Your Strategic Planning Coach 2

Your Strategic Planning Coach

Mission and Vision

I assume you are reading this blog because you are intrigued by the idea of strategic planning and want to know more. Or you have even committed your organization to pursue strategic planning and you want to get started. Or, you are up to your eyebrows in planning, and things not going as well as you hoped. In any case, welcome to Your Strategic Planning Coach!

Should you hire an expert?

One option is to engage a strategic planning expert who can guide you through a formal process. If you are doing strategic planning for the first time, if your situation is complex or seems to be more than you can handle with internal talent, or if you are trying to handle some sort of organizational crisis, getting expert help may be essential.

Otherwise, if you and your organization are up to the challenge, you should continue to explore the "why" and "how" of planning strategically. So keep on reading, and return to your virtual strategic planning coach whenever the need arises.

The starting point: your organization's mission

The starting point for all strategic planning is the answer to the question, "what is our purpose as an organization?" For most organizations there may be several answers to that question. The term mission is used to describe the fundamental purpose of the organization, the main reason (or set of reasons) your organization exists. A concise description of this mission is referred to as a mission statement.

In some cases an organization creates a mission statement 1) as it builds a business plan in the earliest stages of the organization's life, 2) when it seeks official status with state government, or 3) when it seeks funding. But many organizations never clarify their mission in a clear and concise mission statement. Others may have a formal statement, but it fails to adequately portray the actual animating force of the organization.

Sometimes the mission actually changes in a fundamental way. For instance, the original mission of the March of Dimes, an incredibly noteworthy and successful organization in American history, was to find a cure of polio. Once that was accomplished the organization realized it had a successful structure and process for raising money for important causes, but no driving purpose. Instead of ending the organization, it took on a new purpose, to find cures for, and support families suffering with, birth defects.

In any case, to effectively plan for the future, you need to know what you are trying to accomplish. That is your mission. The first step in planning is to dust off your mission statement and make sure it functions to describe your true mission. And if you don't have a mission statement, take some time and effort to create one. Don't move to the next step until you are comfortable with your mission statement. But, also, don't assume you need to make any changes to your mission statement. In most cases your mission has not changed. What is changing is how you are to carry out your mission in the current financial, cultural, political or physical environment.

Some keys to developing a Mission Statement that aids planning

An effective mission statement is:

  • Clear, concise, and memorable-- one sentence or, at most, a brief paragraph. You should be able to recite your mission statement from memory!

  • Focused on the core interests and activities of your organization.

  • Compelling and inspirational -- a good mission statement is motivational.

  • Realistic -- this is about what you will spend your organization's resources on, what you really (in the literal sense of that word!) want to do.

  • Be sure that your mission statement is not so broad that it includes "the kitchen sink." As your organization evolves, and as you pay closer attention to identifying and clarifying your mission, be on the lookout for "mission creep." Keep your eye on the prize; don't be distracted by bright shiny objects that might be fun to pursue, but which are not what you need to be doing. In a mission statement, less is often much better than more, and clarity about what is fundamental is essential for being able to plan the most effective and efficient future for your organization.

From Mission to Vision

The planning horizon: A strategic plan covers a specific time frame, often referred to as the planning horizon. Planning horizons need to be long enough to carry out something substantial, but short enough to be realistic. In most cases, planning beyond five years is about as effective as peering into a crystal ball. I have found that for organizations that are 1) early-stage, 2) experiencing a crisis, 3) growing dramatically, or 4) doing strategic planning for the first time, two or three years is a practical planning horizon. Mature, stable organizations can often extend the planning horizon to four or five years.

The visioning process: When you are planning, you are envisioning the future. With your mission statement as a launching point, you are envisioning how to carry out your mission within the planning horizon. You are answering the question: "how will we carry out our mission in the financial, cultural, political, physical, and organizational environments we face in the next few years?" Thus, the next step in planning is visioning. The goal of the visioning process is to create a Vision Statement.

The Vision Statement: Simply put, Vision is how you seek to fulfill your Mission during the planning horizon. Like the mission statement, the vision statement should be 1) clear and concise, 2) focused on core interests and activities of the organization, 3) compelling and inspiring, and 4) realistic. The main difference is that the vision statement should speak to the unique situation facing the company during this specific planning horizon. Is the economy robust or in recession? Has your work forced aged? Has technology that is central to your operations evolving, or even being revolutionized? Have your constituencies changed in any significant ways? How should we adjust what we do on a day-to-day basis to fulfill our mission because of these factors?

The next blog in this series will discuss a time-tested process for launching the visioning process and moving towards a strategic plan.


In this series

Your Strategic Planning Coach 1: When should you make planning "strategic"? - May 8, 2018.

Your Strategic Planning Coach 2: Mission and Vision - July 10, 2018

Your Strategic Planning Coach 3: SWOT

© 2018 Russell E. Willis



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