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Your Mission Statement: The Foundation of Successful Strategic Planning (Part 1 of 2)

Note: This is the first of a two-part series addressing the importance of your institution’s mission statement – not only in strategic planning but in daily operations. You can find part 2 by clicking here.

Quick – what is your institution’s mission statement? And in a “blind taste test,” how many of your trustees, faculty, staff could distinguish your mission statement from those of your peers and competitors?

Some of your key stakeholders will draw a blank on this question. Many might get the essence, the spirit of the statement, but quoting it verbatim is not something most members of the institutional leadership team, including trustees, are going to be able to do at the drop of a hat.

And if the leaders of the institution can’t remember the mission statement word-for-word, how can we expect faculty, staff and other key stakeholders to remember it – and, more importantly, to use it to drive their daily actions?

Your mission statement is important to building an institution that is unified and committed to a shared undertaking and filled with people that understand they have the authority and responsibility to do what is necessary to help the institution achieve the mission as efficiently and effectively as possible.

What is a mission statement?

You say you’ve got an institutional mission statement? Ok, so that we’re all on the same page, let’s make sure we have the same definition of a mission statement.

According to our friends at Bain and Company, a mission statement “defines the company’s business, its objectives and its approach to reach those objectives.”

Or, according to the folks at Entrepreneur, a mission statement is “A sentence describing a company’s function, markets and competitive advantages; a short written statement of your business goals and philosophies.”

And in the very next paragraph, the folks at Entrepreneur write “A mission statement defines what an organization is, why it exists, its reason for being. At a minimum, your mission statement should define who your primary customers are, identify the products and services you produce, and describe the geographical location in which you operate.”

Finally, the folks at the American Marketing Association define mission statement as “An expression of a company’s history, managerial preferences, environmental concerns, available resources, and distinctive competencies to serve selected publics. It is used to guide the company’s decision making and strategic planning.”

Crystal clear, right?

Perhaps that’s why so many mission statements are bland, indistinguishable from those you compete with, and fail to unify the key stakeholders and motivate action towards the same, shared outcome.

That’s why we prefer to write mission statements that focus on clearly, concisely defining the following:

·      What business you are in (higher education, liberal arts education, adult education, other?)

·      Why the institution exists – for all stakeholders ranging from students to alumni, faculty and staff, the local community (government, corporate, non-profit)

·      Focus on the unique value each stakeholder enjoys.

What about an example in higher education? Check out this from Walden University:

Walden University provides a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they can effect positive social change.

Their mission statement may not come out and state “higher education” but it does clearly identify their key stakeholder, the reason the institution exists, and the benefits enjoyed by all stakeholders. 

Why do you need a mission statement?

Mission statements are important clarity to everyone within the institution and outside the institution that is impacted by the institution. Here are some reasons why your institution might need to revisit its  mission statement:

·   Decision-Making

With a well-crafted mission statement, everyone can evaluate an opportunity or situation based on that statement so that decision-making has the same parameters. This doesn’t mean that all decisions made will be exactly what you or others would have made themselves – but it does provide the parameters that will produce decisions that keep the institution moving towards the shared direction.

·     Strategy

Your strategies and tactics are based on your mission and vision, so a well-crafted mission statement is the foundation upon which your institution agrees to pursue the mission and achieve the vision.

·     Stakeholder Management

Setting and managing expectations with your board, community leaders, faculty, staff, students, alumni and other stakeholders is always a challenge. But it is significantly easier and more successful when your institution’s mission statement is clearly articulated and communicated and, consequently, embraced. 

How to evaluate your mission statement

How do you know if your mission statement is ready to be shared with and followed by your institution’s leadership and stakeholders? Here are a few questions to ask and answer:

  • Does the mission statement describe the unique value your institution consistently delivers to its stakeholders?
  • Does the mission statement identify and describe the values that support its purpose so that stakeholders can be proud of their work and association with your institution?
  • Do the values support the institution’s strategy and tactics?
  • Are behavior standards described so stakeholders can easily, quickly and accurately determine how they should behave?
  • ·      Is it easy to read and understand?

If you can answer “Yes” to all these questions, you have a mission statement that will help your stakeholders evaluate situations and determine, on their own, what needs to be done and take the steps necessary to get things done properly. 

Think about that for a moment.

What you are creating here is a culture where everyone is empowered. Where everyone knows they have the authority to go with the responsibility. Where everyone knows where the institution is headed and how they should evaluate options and opportunities so that their actions keep the institution moving towards the mission.

Creating this type of culture means the people within the institution know they are proactive and empowered to make decisions within well defined parameters. This turns your institution into a group of people that know they can and should be searching for more efficient ways to accomplish goals and achieve the mission. And that’s significantly better than having a group of individuals reporting to their supervisor that something isn’t working as planned, and then asking what to do next.

Should a Mission Statement Be Changed?

For some institutions, the first response to this question is an audible gasp, that somehow the mission statement is sacrosanct and immutable … under any set of changing circumstances … and even consideration of changing the mission statement is heresy. But a mission statement is — or ought to be — a living work in progress, especially during these times of turbulent change in higher education.

Here’s a valuable suggestion – if your mission statement isn’t part of daily decisions and discussions, make sure that it is formally reviewed and evaluated annually.

Make certain the formal review involves the key stakeholders in the discussion and determine if changing the mission statement is really warranted. Focus on the key factors, don’t get caught up in ‘making changes for the sake of making changes.’

Written by

Strategic turnaround consultant and writer.

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