Why bother with a Vision and Mission anyway?
As mentioned in my previous blog ‘The start of something…the story of a new company part 1’ (link below) we are in the throes of forming a new start-up company called ‘Freeform Software Limited.’
As part of the initial planning stages we needed to organise our thoughts into the companies Vision and Mission statement and consider the company’s core values. This is important for those involved now, and those who will be joining us as this venture gains momentum.
It is vitally important that we are explicit in describing the companies Vision and Mission; these statements will be used as a point of reference for all concerned especially when making decisions on the future direction of the company. It isn’t enough to just jot down your thoughts, put them in a draw and not consider them until your next big presentation; you must live and breathe them. Failure to not do so can cause confusion or misdirection. Managers should look to the companies Vision and Mission statements as guiding lights, executing plans with them firmly in mind.
As well as these two statements, we took first steps to defining the Core Values we would like to be dominant in the organisation. Research has shown that if you make clear what you expect then people will align themselves to the requirement. It is uncertainty that is the true cause of untold problems within organisations; but we will talk about this a little later.
Without Vision, would this concept car have been imagined? Image - Mercedes Benz.
Introduction – What is a Vision and Mission in real terms?
So what is a Vision?
Google describes a company’s vision as “A one-sentence statement describing the clear and inspirational long-term desired change resulting from an organization or program’s work.” catchy eh! I prefer The Management of Strategy’s Concepts and Cases description “Vision is a picture of what the firm wants to be and, in broad terms, what it wants to ultimately achieve.”
Ok, what is a Mission then?
Whereas a Google search describes an organisation Mission as “A statement of the purpose of a company, organisation or person, its reason for existing. The mission statement should guide the actions of the organisation, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making.”; again I prefer The Management Strategy’s description “A Mission statement specifies the business or businesses in which the firm intends to compete and the customers it intends to serve.” This description just seems more focused and in-line with broader thinking generally considered when planning about the company or organisation.
They work together!
Consider the Vision and Mission of an organisation in this way and it makes more sense… A Vision statement expresses an organisation’s optimal goal and reason for existence, while a Mission statement provides an overview of the group’s plans to realise that Vision by identifying the service areas, target audience, and values and goals of the organisation.
See this is all quite simple really (distinct tongue in cheek!)
As we have turned to Google to aid us in describing the Vision and Mission statements let’s have a quick look at their actual Vision and Mission.
Googles Vision Statement is “to provide access to the world’s information in one click.” Nice!
Whereas it’s Mission statement is apparently out of date (?) “Google’s chief executive Larry Page has admitted that the company has outgrown its mission statement, which is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” from the launch of the company in 1998, but has said he doesn’t yet know how to redefine it.” Just goes to show that even an organisation the size of Google can have problems keeping on top of its mission, perhaps this is part of the reason why markets are unsure of the future direction the organisation is taking?
So where to start with Freeform Software’s Vision and Mission statement?
Firstly, we decided not to have an organisational Purpose at this stage, this is something that sits alongside the Vision and Mission statement. This was a simple decision, as we were all in agreement that we want Freeform Software to be as simple as possible to understand and to work with, either directly or via our products. As I have mentioned before, sometimes it is better to decide to do nothing than to try and do something that will be hard to come up with and won’t be used anyway. So the company Purpose has been parked for the moment.
Coming up with a Vision and Mission!
We planned in a meeting to discuss what should be included in the company Vision, Mission and Core Values; proprietary work involved each person researching and writing up their version of the statements. Plenty of time was allowed prior to the meeting for preparation. It was fully understood that allowing your thoughts to settle was paramount to arriving at a point of personal understanding.
Now, if we all thought in two dimensional black and white coming up with coherent statements would be simple, but we don’t and hence it wasn’t; during the process I personally became exasperated with the experience, as it seemed never ending. After sitting down and coming up with what I thought was a sensible statement, I would be satisfied; only to pick it up later in the day and think ‘What was I thinking, this isn’t what I meant at all’ but perseverance is necessary to write something that is sensible and reflective of your dream.
The Open Forum Meeting
First off the ground rules ‘No such thing as a stupid statement or question’. When considering something as important as a company’s statements it is important that everyone has a voice and no opinion is dismissed out of hand. That’s not to say that you don’t need reality checks along the way to guide the meeting, but in general terms everyone has to be receptive to everyone else’s opinion; sometimes you just don’t know where that strange comment might lead? It could be the answer to the question you never knew you had to ask (?)
Upon meeting we set the scene with a quick recap of why we’re meeting and what outcomes we were looking for, rules were discussed and order of initial conversation was agreed.
We took time to set out what a Vision and Mission statement needed to be, we reviewed other company’s statements and spent a good hour ensuring that we all had the same opinion on how we would structure the statements. Once again, ‘The Management of Strategy’s Concepts and Cases’ was used as an invaluable point of reference, along with internet access to check information along the way.
Initially we decided to listen to each person’s prepared version of the Vision, then Mission and finally discussed what the core values should contain.
We set about the Vision statement first; after listening to each version there were some similarities. We honed in on these and tried to understand them better. We discussed, in detail, their meaning in the context of the company, the products, the people and our points of view.
Key terms were mentioned again and again, which we captured on paper during discussion, these included ‘Insightful, information, Performance, improvement, process, management of teams, enable, efficiently, innovative and effective, software, solutions, field based teams, remote access, cost improvement and operational optimisation’; obviously these mean little on their own, but in the context of the meeting they were points of reference and commonality of understanding.
From here, we tried to form a sentence that described our Vision for Freeform Software. It was important that it didn’t become too abstract; programmers dislike fuzzy thinking and as they will be the brains of the product it was important that we retain synergy of understanding with all those partners (I will explain this term in a later blog) involved.
Our initial attempts at creating a Vision Statement included:
‘To provide software to improve productivity anywhere’
‘To provide software that enables productive working anywhere?’
And the list went on…and on…
So, what did our Vision statement end up being?
We aim to 'Provide Software Solutions that Enable Productive Working Anywhere'
The emphasis on ‘enabling productive and significant user control from anywhere’ was seen as paramount to the success of the first phase and second phase products (to 3 – 4 years).This, along with our focus-market – software, was included to ensure explicit guidance in decision making.
The term ‘Solutions’ was a key word discussed to the point of exhaustion, the principle here is that we want to provide answers and means to peoples everyday problems. The conversation led to this from the perspective of making all users, no matter what level within the organisation, feel that the products are beneficial, even instrumental, to their daily tasks and lives. By answering the big questions for our users they will be able to do things themselves, in a different way or simply improve their overall performance by releasing their time from procedural tasks.
Finally, we wanted to allow room for the company to grow within the remit of the vision. Knowing the people involved in Freeform Software, coming up with different slants and new product ideas won’t be the problem, selecting and developing one or two Real Winners will be. This statement allows us to move comfortably within the software solutions market, whilst maintaining the focus of putting the true power of the product in the hands of the user, and giving them access to a feature rich product from anywhere.
The Mission statement
As already stated, the Mission defines the businesses in which we intend to compete and customers we would like to serve. This, by its very nature can be a wordy process, as the tendency is to spend time writing and rewriting the statement to make it sound nice; but in so doing, you lose the emphasis of the Mission.
The Mission is action to achieving the Vision. By doing the Mission in the right way you should deliver the Vision.
Again, as with the Vision, clarity is key to success. It’s a Ronseal moment ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ or something to that effect. In my opinion, the Mission should flow, or bare reference to, the Vision statement as together they form the foundation of the company and its focus.
We followed a similar approach to that of forming the Vision statement, we reviewed each person’s Mission, and we discussed in detail each word and formed many sentences that might best describe our mission, some of which are below:
‘We enable field-based team’s continuous improvement by creating software solutions that allow adaptable business process and tailored business insight’
‘Provide software that enables continuous field-based team’s improvement through adaptable business process and tailored business insight’
Ultimately we settled on the following Mission statement to best describe Freeform Software:
Our Mission Statement: 'We enable field-based team continuous-improvement, by creating software solutions that allow adaptable business processes and tailored business insight'
Again, our aim was to be explicit in our business focus. We have a clear plan on what the initial products will look like and how they will function. This clarity in statement leaves those involved with no doubt of what is required to achieve the company Vision. We consciously avoided term such as ‘to be a x in the market place of x,y and z’ as this, although great for Rah Rah! Is not what is needed to get Freeform Software first products off the ground.
During this process of designing the Mission statement we also agreed to review this annually to ensure that it is still relevant; and if it isn’t, change it.
The Core company Values!
This was a simple conversation, in which we spoke openly about how we like to be treated and what is important to us. This was not a challenge by any means. We simply stated how we want to work and if we were all in agreement we documented it. I must admit to being very proud of how easy it was to come up with these. These statements will shape the working environment nicely and encourage the spirit of engagement and personal ownership we are looking for.
However, it should be noted that we were working from an advantage point, in that we have been here before in other start-ups and know what we like. I would imagine that getting the basis of these together, without copying them directly from other organisations, would be quite a challenge.
Our core values
Work together cooperatively
Only deliver to the highest standard
Leadership in all roles and in all areas
Challenge and be challenged
Openness and respect at all levels
In my opinion, that’s a company I would like to work in!
These statements will be used when considering employees for good fit in the organisation. They will be used as guidance for Human Resource job descriptions, terms and conditions, disciplinary procedures and our company processes.
But most importantly they will be used to ensure that we don’t lose sight of what we want to be. As I witnessed in a corporate I visited recently, having statements such as these on the walls and not following them is sad beyond compare. I wonder how new employees feel when, on your first day of work, you realise that the statements plastered around the building are just false. That’s how important it is to get the statements right, and live them!
Learning from this process!
Slowing things down and considering top-line strategy is massively important in a start-up; running straight in to a product design or service launch, without considering a clear strategy is a recipe for disaster. Many a good product launch has been ruined by poor planning and lack of communication. Think about it for a second, taking a few months to truly discuss/consider what you will be doing for the next three years isn’t a massive commitment really, but it is challenging to the mind. You are forced to think about things that might happen and plan for them, or at least be able to recognise them when they appear. Stopping and considering, collectively, what is important to those responsible for delivering on the company’s performance is of great importance and a mile stone to be celebrated.
*All comments are based on my personal experiences and given freely. That said, you need to make your own choices. I can’t and won’t accept liability for you employing any recommendations. Business is all about risk. It’s your choice.
Nigel stone has, over the last fifteen years, started, led, consulted and nurtured both UK and European businesses to achieve quite outstanding results. please feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org