Turning Strategies Into Action

Let’s say you are my employee, and I ask you to build a puzzle of 1,000 pieces. The challenges are that there are no square edges, you cannot see the picture of what the puzzle will look like in the end, and most of the picture is pure black or white. Oh, and by the way, I am going to give you extra pieces. How motivated are you to build this puzzle for me? Welcome to the typical business. This is how the majority of employees feel in most organizations and why most employees only do the minimum expected to keep their job.

In my experience as a business coach, chief executives typically consider development of a vision and mission statement to be a waste of time. During strategic planning processes, it is not unusual to hear comments like, “let’s stop spending so much time with this fluffy stuff, and let’s get something done.” I recall one strategic planning process that I facilitated where a lot of thought and time was put into vision, and there were many decision-makers. When we first started the discussion, there was an initial feeling that vision was only necessary for large organizations, and it was questioned whether time was being well spent. Trusting my expertise, the client stayed with the program. To their delight, when the vision was rolled out, there was a surge in energy throughout the organization. As a matter of fact, many employees approached management to ask, “How can we get involved?” They were actually asking for more work to do. WOW!

One issue we find with vision and mission is there is typically confusion about the differences between the two. For the sake of clarity, vision is the destination where an organization wants to be twenty to thirty years from now. It is the journey the organization continually strives toward and never reaches. For example, Tiger Woods’ vision was not ‘to become a great golfer.” If it had been, he could have stopped playing in his early 20s. His vision is to be the best golfer he can be … which never ends.

Mission, on the other hand, looks at what you want to accomplish over the next three to five years to move you closer to the vision. In Tiger’s example, his mission might be to be the Number One golfer every year by perfecting his swing, mastering putting, achieving maximum health, and having the right equipment. If he achieves his mission, he will be driving directly towards his vision.

I would like to share with you a real company that we will call “Dreamer.” Dreamer decided to skip steps in the strategic plan process because that was for bigger companies. While working with this company, a very clear and exciting vision was created. This vision would revolutionize the company and its industry. They actually won an award based on this vision. Failure to follow a complete strategic planning process delayed action by almost 3 years. In other words, rather than the vision being a goal it was a dream.

Continuing our case example, this company actually got itself stuck in the land of “status quo.” To this day, they still struggle with letting go of their roots and truly committing their organization towards their new vision. The missing link was mission tied to vision.

While this company did have a mission, it was the same as before, but with higher numbers. Indirectly, what they inadvertently did was to tell everyone that “We want to be dramatically different, but keep doing what you have been doing, just do it better.” This would have been fine if what they were doing would lead to the vision. Basically, this company was in a hole, and, rather than stop digging and climb out, they kept digging. More importantly, failure to turn this dream into a true goal has cost the company millions of dollars in lost opportunity that can never be recaptured.

Another area where organizations fall short is the clarity of the written vision and mission statements. Well-developed vision and mission statements make clear to everyone “what needs to change and how.” As I mentioned above, the vision screamed, “we need to change dramatically” while the mission said “keep doing what you’re doing.” The bottom line? If you can achieve every goal in your mission and not be dramatically closer to your vision, you do not have a worthwhile mission, or, in simple terms, you are digging deeper holes.

The last issue with this principle is with how it is communicated. Too many companies write vision and mission statements and put them in employee handbooks that nobody reads and on their website, which employees rarely visit. Employees need to be enrolled in, not told, the vision. When this is done correctly, it drives pride and bragging rights for everyone involved. A well-defined vision stimulates employees to come to work in order to contribute to a bigger cause, rather than to collect a paycheck and make the owners richer. Vision is communicated regularly and everywhere so that no one forgets why they come to work.

If your company has any of the following symptoms, you may have a vision or mission problem:

  • Top management seems to be pulling everyone along.
  • Customers seem to stay 3 to 5 years (or less) and then go to our competitors.
  • A lot of changes in “how” things are done have been successfully completed with minimal effect on the bottom line, or the effects are not as great as desired.
  • Tactical changes are not driving the business to where it needs to be fast enough.
  • High turnover of new employees, particularly at the upper management level.
  • Continually miss our business plan goals and usually on the revenue side.
  • Employees do not work as hard as we do.
  • Most change initiatives start off great and then lose steam.

Contact Howard Shore at 305.722.7213, or e-mail me at shoreh@activategroupinc.com to learn how I can help you master the concepts in this article. At Activate Group, Inc. our executive coaches help remove obstacles to success. Review our website to understand how a business coach or our consultants can help you improve your business.