How To Define The Corporate Mission

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Many times, when I ask a CEO for the company mission, I get the following one:

“Our mission is to serve our clients profitably, to be responsible to our stockholders, and to the society at large.”

It’s not a bad statement, but it applies to every responsible company on earth. It’s not particular to you. It’s like when you ask somebody, “What’s your purpose in life?” and the person says, “My purpose is to be happy.” So, what’s new? Everybody wants to be happy. "What are you going to do tomorrow?" This is the operational question.

A mission has to be task oriented. It has to drive you: Where do you want to go? What do you want to do which is particular to you at this point in time?

The mission will change over time because the company’s strengths and weaknesses change, environments change and it is especially true in today's environment, which is changing rapidly. So, a mission is more than just a statement of general values.

So, how should we define a mission. ?

First, you have to define who you are because you don't know where you want to go until you know where you are. If I drop you in the middle of a dessert you will not know whether to go home or any place else unless you know first where you are.

I found out as a professor that the students of mine who knew who they were, knew where they wanted to go. The ones who were confused, “I don't know what I want to do. I don't know where I want to go . . .” was because they didn't know who they were.  So, who are you?

Let's start. How do you know who you are?  Ask yourself, the first question: “Which needs in the market do you want to satisfy? Who is your client? What are their needs?” Next question, “What capabilities do you have to satisfy those needs?” And you're going to find the following: some needs, you have the capability to satisfy. That's your bread and butter. That's your sweet spot. For some needs, you don't have all the capabilities necessary to develop—to meet those needs. And some capabilities that you have, you're not exploiting at all, although there is a need for them.

So, who are you? What you do, what you could do, and what you should do—that's who you are.

Now as a result of answering these questions you might have too many choices. To narrow down what to do, look at the environment and ask yourself, “How is the environment changing?” The economic environment, legal environment, political environment, physical environment, and social environment. All of them are changing. Some of them impact you more. Some of them impact you less. This analysis is going to identify for you what I call ”oppor-threats” (a literal translation of the Chinese word for problem and opportunity. In Chinese they are the same word).

I don't call them opportunities, because opportunities can be a problem if you don't know how to handle them. And a threat, or a problem, can be an opportunity if you know how to handle it very well—because you learn, you improve yourself. So, analyzing the changing environment, how it impacts your capabilities and how it impacts the needs of your clients will identify oppor-threats—opportunities and threats at the same time. 

Now pay attention to your value system that is driving your decisions. 

Are you aware of your value system? What you would do, and what you would not do? Take that into account. Do you need to change some of your values? Maybe your values are outdated. Which value system is making your company work or not? Do you need to change any values? What values do you have to keep? What values do you have to develop? What values do you have to drop? Making those value changes is another source of opporthreats; If you do not change they are a problem blocking you to act right and if you do change them it is an opportunity to excel. 

So, what is a mission? 

A mission is how you're going to handle your oppor-threats. It follows the TV series, Mission Impossible. What does it say? You are a member of the Special Forces. That's who you are. There is a threat of some kind. Your job is to take care of the threat and if they discover you, we will disown you. It has all the three variables necessary for defining a mission:  You know who you are. You know what you're supposed to do. And you know, under which value-system limitations you are supposed to do it. That is the right mission, which you then translate into goals, objectives, tasks, strategies, and organizational structure to deliver it.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes
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