Why the Mission Matters
Most every organization has a mission even if it does not have a mission statement. Often in my work when I asked an agency director about the mission, s/he would say, and I am paraphrasing, "Oh yes, we have a mission and it is..." But when I asked employees, I might not get anything but a blank stare. Employees know there is a mission; they just may not know what it is! Too often there's a disconnect.
In well run mission-focused organizations you can't look at a wall and not see the mission statement prominently on display -- in waiting areas, offices, work sites, or printed in brochures, on websites, in their board meeting materials, in their policy and procedures manuals, in their new staff orientation and in-service training materials. It is so prominent that every single employee knows it and can recite it verbatim. Those are very healthy signs. And yet, even those organizations need to be reminded that adherence to the mission is not the same as knowing it.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do?
Remember when you were a child and your parents would chide you with the first half of the above caption: Do as I say? But as you grew up you noticed that didn't always actually do it themselves? For a time that might have troubled you but you soon figured out that your parents either were trying to do right by teaching you the right thing to do but were not themselves able to commit to doing what it was they were urging you to do or not do. You might have reacted by simply tuning their advice out. Well, the same thing can happen in organizations that lose sight of the mission and drift aimlessly away from it while still believing the mission is noble and further thinking that employees have bought in when in fact those employees have figured out, just like children do about their parents, that the leadership does really mean what they say because they are merely spouting words but acting in complete divergence from that mission. I like to call this mission incongruity: where an organization makes decisions that pull away the efforts and often too the resources from the mission; and, over time lose their way. I posit this position: to the extent that an organization drifts from its mission, it ceases to have a mission at all. Hence, the need for revisiting the mission every so often through strategic planning retreats, staff engagement, stake holder surveys and other assorted management techniques. In this way, an organization can either confirm its mission for certain; or, if the mission creep and incongruity have grown to the point where the mission no longer holds true, change the mission to accommodate the new direction so that consistent application of the new mission can be achieved.
Here's a graphic:
What this tries to demonstrate is that the mission is always center most in the organization's thinking, planning and decision making. As organizations begin to grow, mature and evolve they need to constantly check that whatever they do remains in close proximity to consistent application of the mission's intent. But if an organization builds in ways that take it from the center circle in the above diagram it can quickly find itself out on the outer ring, doing things that were not part of the mission: sidetracked, in disharmony with the mission completely.
Checking ourselves against the mission as a touchstone allows us to think about whether we are doing as we say or doing as we do when we established our mission. What we communicate to our publics: donors, service participants, families, community supports and funders always matters. Keeping the mission uppermost in our decisions is critical to our successfully meeting the lofty aspirations of our mission. It always matters that we know this principle and practice it.