Post by Chaz Thorne
You spend months in and out of meetings. Maybe you’re working with expensive outside consultants and facilitators. Dozens of emails have gone back and forth. You’ve been promised the endless “wordsmithing” will be worth it. In any case, everyone seems to believe this is “very important work”. And then you have it; the perfect mission and/or vision statement(s). You send out a memo, slap it on a poster in the lunchroom, put it up on your website and then…
(Insert sound of crickets here.)
Too often mission and vision statement writing ends up being an academic exercise that results in something that is wordy and generic with no tangible effect on your business.
The last point is the most damning.
Any strategic planning activity that does not have a real impact on your firm is a waste of time, energy and resources.
Testing the Theory
Ask a CEO of a medium to large organization what their mission and/or vision statement is. (The organization should be large enough that the CEO did not craft it themselves.) Most of the time they can’t tell you or will paraphrase something that mildly represents it.
Take it a step further and ask an employee that is significantly lower on the org chart. They can often tell you what the mission and/or vision statement is. However, ask them a follow up question. How are they brought to life in your day-to-day activities?
(Insert sound of crickets here.)
This is not the fault of the CEO or the employee. It is the fault of a process that seldom works.
I can feel the Mission/Vision Statement Zealot in you revolting, “But, then how do we get people united around a Purpose? How do we demonstrate that we are about something larger than just profit? But, it works for (insert name of super successful corporate unicorn here).”
The first thing I would suggest is to look at how ubiquitous mission and vision statements are. Are they the exclusive domain of well-run organizations? Next, look at the wording. How often do you see the same words? Excellence. Performance. Innovative. Bold. Integrity. Commitment. Responsibility. Do they even mean anything? Now, ask yourself whether or not they say anything unique about those organizations and whether or not you believe their businesses truly align with their stated missions and visions. Finally, for the true death blow, ask someone who works there what they think of their mission and vision.
If we are going to suggest tearing down one of the Ivory Towers of strategy development, what do we replace it with?
A Touchstone is a maximum seven word statement that acts as a brief yet tangible guide to all of your organization’s activities.
A well-carved Touchstone matches up with the acronym T.R.I.M.
True - Holds true for both internal AND external stakeholders
Repeatable - Easy to remember.
Instructive - Acts as a North Star for EVERYONE’s activities
Motivational - Has an aspirational quality
Though it may become one, it is NOT a marketing slogan or tagline. The reality is your Touchstone may only ever be used internally.
As the work we do for our clients is confidential, let me give an example from our own firm, Barn Raisers Strategic.
“Solving challenges faster, together.”
Though we knew we were on to something with our strategic planning methodology, we were unable to concisely put our finger on it at first. Over the past 24 months, conversations with our clients, made it more and more clear the value and difference they saw in our offerings. At the same time, we were also able to better define the engagements we most enjoyed and how our values were expressed in our work.
First and foremost, clients want solutions. Not exploration. Solutions. Our unique process and experience are wonderful, but these are only means to an end.
We believe in the capability of our clients. Most of the time, the solutions to their challenges are just below the surface but have not emerged due to politics. organizational silos, or failed planning processes. Unlike traditional consulting which is about lengthy engagements, tons of data collection, 500 page reports that no-one reads and large bills, we get all the key decision makers together in a room and move the needle in days not months.
Many problems are created because of competing internal objectives and communication breakdowns between departments. By getting everyone together you are devising solutions that can run the gauntlet of all the different silos.
In addition, you save significant time and money as you are creating buy-in in the room. One of the most frustrating aspects of consulting is when you go away and devise an elegant solution for a client that never gets implemented. This is because those that are responsible for implementation need to feel that the solution is theirs, not an outsider’s.
An elegant solution not implemented is useless.
A Guide for Everything
When we are talking to clients about projects or developing new services, we always come back to our Touchstone. It acts a guide for everything we do. Even our CSR activity, brought to life through our Give Agency initiative, is perfectly aligned. We essentially bring our Touchstone to life for non-profits and charities.
But Wait, There’s More!
Once you have your Touchstone it also acts as a guide for further strategic planning. From this simple yet powerful statement trickles the rest of your corporate strategy as it will direct your financial imperatives and choices about how you “win”.
In a world where planning too often gets bogged down in outdated processes and useless semantics, Touchstones have been a powerful tool for bringing clarity to our clients’ businesses.
From that clarity comes a greater ability to quickly make aligned choices. Something that mission and vision statements seldom achieve.
(Insert sound of crickets being squished.)