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Vision, Mission, Values: Are They Really That Important???

“You must have a 30 second elevator speech.”

“Your people must know WHY they do what they do.”

“We need clarity and direction to really move forward.”

“Our purpose must be communicated and owned by the entire team.”

“Every organization needs a road map, some direction.”

“It’s not just what we do, it’s why we do it.”.

“What noble worthy cause are we here to serve.”.

These are just a few of the statements I’ve heard and read (and to be honest, I’ve said) over the years from leaders and managers from every sector.

All of these statements were part of some conversation related to vision, mission, and values, or some variation thereof.

I’ve always assumed that vision, mission, and values must be important because there’s so much literature and dialogue dedicated to them.  And after all, they’re on the wall of almost every nonprofit, small business, corporation and government agency you walk in.  Now I’m questioning this assumption because of something that has happened repeatedly over the years, as recent as yesterday.

I find myself standing before a group, a team, a tribe, a board, a leader, or a follower and I’ll ask a series of questions:

Question 1: Got a Vision Statement?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 2: What is it?

Answer: “Not sure” or  “I don’t know” or “I think it’s something like __________” or “It’s on the website”

Question 3: Got a Mission Statement?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 4: What is it?

Answer: “Not Sure” or  “I don’t” or “I think it’s something like_________” or “It’s on the website”

Question 5: Have any organizational or corporate values?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 6: What are they?

Answer: “Not sure” or “I don’t know” or “I think they’re something like ________” or “They’re on the website”

For some reason these answers are troubling to me. I don’t expect everyone to know the vision, mission, and values verbatim, but I would hope they would know the “essence” of them.  So here are a few questions I’m now considering:

1. Have we over-stated the importance of vision, mission, and values statements?

2. What does it mean, if anything, if key people don’t know the vision, mission, and values?

3. Do people need to “know” the vision, mission, and values in order to fulfill their roles, responsibilities and expectations?

4. Does presenting & viewing vision, mission, and values as “statements” create any challenges?

I have other questions, but I’m starting here.  Do me a favor, share your feedback regarding the questions above.  Any answers or insights are greatly appreciated, because I want to know if Vision, Mission and Values are Really That Important.




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Obstacle or Danger???

A healthy dose of perspective & insight  can help successful, high-performing leaders with their decision-making.  The ability to “see things for what they are” is a good thing.  The ability to “see things for what they are not” is even better.

There will be times during your leadership journey when you will face obstacles that will challenge you.  Overcoming these obstacles will prove to be moments of growth and create confidence for facing even greater obstacles in the future.

There will also be times during your leadership journey when you will face danger that needs to be avoided.  There will be warnings (sometimes subtle) like signs on the side of the highway to help you avoid dangerous situations and predicaments. When dealing with danger, the goal is not to overcome it, the goal is to prevent and/or avoid it.

Some leaders confuse obstacles & challenges with warnings of danger; resulting in their team and organizations being placed in a perilous situation because they didn’t know the difference between the two.

Perspective and insight will help the Teachable leader discern the difference between an obstacle to be overcome and a danger to be avoided.

In our next post we’ll begin to explore how to tell the difference between an obstacle and danger.  Have you had any obstacle vs. danger confusion along your leadership journey?? – Please share.

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Why We Get Mission Drift?

Recently I was teaching a class on Leadership Effectiveness.  The class agreed that organizational performance (mission achievement) was one measure of a leaders effectiveness.  It kind of makes sense – I mean how can I call myself an effective leader if the organization I am leading isn’t effective?  Effective organizations recognize that their programs, services, funding, initiatives, and partners, to name a few; must align with their mission or they fall prey to the dreaded “Mission Drift”.  I asked the class what do they believe are the primary causes of mission drift – here are a few of their responses:

  1. Money, Money, Money – Chasing dollars.  Doing things we have no business doing, just because someone will give us money to do it.  Remember mission won’t follow money, but money will always follow mission – stay true to the mission.
  2. Inability to say no – Trying to be everything to everybody. Successful nonprofits know how to say no to external pressure; if not, everyone (even some funders) will believe you can do all things under the sun.  Sometimes the most effective answer is NO.
  3. Unhealthy Board-CEO relationship – The Board and CEO should be providing leadership from the top.  If anyone should be keeping their eye on the long-term, mission-centric, big picture – it should be the Board and CEO.  Unfortunately when the Board and CEO are engaged in an unhealthy relationship this leads to unhealthy conflict which becomes a distraction, then conflicting agendas arise, focus is lost, and mission-drift begins.
  4. Displaced Loyalty – When your loyalty to a program, service, board member, or donor takes precedence over your loyalty to the mission of the organization, you are cracking the door from mission drift to creep in.

These are just a few of the reasons we discussed that nonprofits fall prey to mission drift – What are some additional reasons you’ve observed?

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It’s a paper weight…

It’s a paper weight – No!
It’s a door stop– No!
It’s a dust collector on my book shelf – No!
What is it? It’s your Strategic Plan.

If you’ve ever attended a Strategic Planning session you can identify with the above. The thought of Strategic Planning sends chills down the spine of many executives and board members who cringe at the thought of engaging in this annual ritual of “Write It Down and Put It Away.” Normally, the only time the plan is opened is when we’re about to have our annual session and we want to at least make sure we change some of language.

Contrary to popular belief and conventional wisdom, planning is not the problem. Think of it this way: if you join the gym and hire a personal trainer who gives you a workout routine, but you don’t work out, is it the gym or trainer’s fault when you don’t lose weight? Of course not – they gave you access to the tools but YOU still have to use them.

A strategic plan is a tool, and like any other tool if you leave it on the shelf it won’t do you any good.

The plan is only as good as the execution. We’ve developed a formula that we believe you’ll appreciate:

P-E = WoT (Planning – Execution = Waste of Time). Here are two major challenges…

1. Lack of Input
Far too often the only people involved in the strategic planning session are the board members. Engage a variety of stakeholders in your planning efforts. The Strategic Plan is not the time for the board to relish in their authority and sneak away for an exclusive weekend of “Us planning for Them.” Without the proper input, the plan is useless.

2. Lack of Ownership
If stakeholders don’t have input, then they also can’t claim ownership. Think about – when was the last time you washed a rental car? That’s right, you haven’t. Why? Because you didn’t own it. You can’t expect people to care for, adhere to, and put their dedication and effort into something they don’t own.


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