Should You Measure Your Mission?

October 18, 2011 by Stacey Barr

Vision and mission statements these days have reduced to a pedestrian, cliched, insipid product of jumping through strategic planning hoops. They’ve lost the ability to unite masses of people for a shared cause and imbued more cynicism into workforces.

Ironically, the main reason that people will refuse to measure their vision or mission is the claim that they are deliberately broad for aspirational purposes and deliberately vague so everyone can find their own meaning in them. Being broad and vague means being immeasurable. Can you even tell which type of company the following mission statements belong to, let alone how to measure them?

“To refresh the world… To inspire moments of optimism and happiness… To create value and make a difference.”

“To help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.”

“Empowering children and families to achieve lifelong successes.”

The first one is The Coca-Cola Company, the second one is Microsoft, and the third is PATH, a nonprofit organization that provides foster care for children with special emotional, behavioural and medical needs. It wasn’t obvious, was it?

How can such statements be guiding lights to drive the focus, energy and activity of people throughout an organisation, when they are this broad and vague? If it’s not measurable, it’s not understandable and it’s not recognisable.

Which types of organisations should measure their mission?

This quote from James Grady, author of “A Simple Statement: A Guide to Nonprofit Arts Management and Leadership” is certainly true of not-for-profit organisations, but I believe equally true of any organisation or business at all:

“For a nonprofit organization, making a profit is not necessarily the definitive measure of success, nor is an increased budget size or staff. The evaluation of success lies in the mission and vision statements and is particular to that organization. Success may represent an increase in audience, in the number of people served by a particular program, or in artistic quality.”

These not-for-profit organisations’ mission statements reflect how clear they are about their purpose:

Vision Australia: “…creating a community partnership of knowledge, skills and expertise to enrich the participation in life of people who are blind or have low vision and their families. We will ensure that the community recognises their capabilities and contributions.”

RSPCA Australia: “To prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection.”

Australian Wildlife Conservancy: “the effective conservation of all Australian animal species and the habitats in which they live.”

These are very clear mission statements that make the purpose of the organisation measurable, understandable and recognisable.

What about for-profit companies? Do you believe that their mission is to make profit? I don’t. Profit is a by-product of business, obviously very important to shareholders, but not really important to other stakeholders without whose support the business would simply not exist (customers, community, employees not rewarded with profit-share). These very successful companies get it:

Virgin Atlantic: “To grow a profitable airline… Where people love to fly… And where people love to work.”

Aveda: “To care for the world we live in, from the products we make to the ways in which we give back to society. At Aveda, we strive to set an example for environmental leadership and responsibility – not just in the world of beauty, but around the world.”

Amazon.com: “To be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Is there a benefit to measuring your mission?

Measuring your vision and mission means choosing just one or two performance measures that track your progress in making them a reality, that proffer real and objective evidence and feedback that your organisation is indeed excelling at what it exists to accomplish.

By measuring your organisation’s mission, whether it’s for-profit, not-for-profit or government, you take it seriously, you make it tangible and understandable, and you make it easier to align everyone’s attention and goals and resource expenditure to fulfilling that mission.

How else could you claim that your organisation was excelling, if you don’t have an objective measure of how well it’s fulfilling its mission?

TAKE ACTION: Is yours one of those wishy-washy vision and mission statement combinations, that any other organisation or company could copy and paste into their own strategic plan and not look out of place? You can’t measure a wishy-washy platitude that fails to invoke a sensory-rich vision in your mind, that fails to paint the vivid picture of the change your organisation came into being to bring into being. If you were to rewrite your organisation’s mission in clear and measurable language, what would it say?

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  1. Leonard Leeks says:

    Actually I zeroed in on Coca-Cola and Microsoft immediately. They were obvious. The third mission statement was obviously from a non-profit, however, I am not familiar with PATH.

    With regard to ‘Vision Australia’, I find there mission statement to be somewhat weasely.

    Yes there is value in measuring your mission. A sound Strategic Plan will either act as verification of an organization’s mission or show that it requires re-statement. Not just a couple of measures for the mission should be developed but also meaningful measures on the outcomes and outputs sought in the strategic plan to show how well the path to achieving the mission is defined and followed.

    Regards,

    Leonard Leeks, FCMA, CMA, P.Eng, B.Sc., AMCT, FICB, AICB

  2. Trevor says:

    Thank you for this post. I have read like commentary and examples before regarding mission-creation but I’ve never heard anyone talk in terms of measuring their mission. Thanks for making it obvious.

  3. Gustavo says:

    I could not be more agree with you on measuring organization mission . I could not say it better. Just last night I was invited to participate in a forum dealing with the spanish lidership ESPALUÑA (book at amazon) and the quality of the changes that need to be done in the country.
    Thank you.
    Gustavo Paez H.

  4. Mamunni V says:

    Hi Stacey,

    Thanks, the topic this time was also very interesting and thought provoking.
    Shall enjoy reading more in future, good luck and keep going.

    Regards
    MAMUNNI

  5. George Odum says:

    Hello Stacey,

    You see you are into a profession and business of measuring performance of business entities. I really enjoy your inciting and thought provoking treatise on this subject matter.

    I also associate myself with the challenges you experience in 2011. Have my condolences on the loss of your pet chilli and floods within your vicinity. On that note can I ask you how to measure the performance of nature? or Is nature measurable?

    Merry X’Mas and Prosperous New Year.

    George Odum

  6. Guita says:

    How do you measure the effectiveness of a Mission in a Non-for Profit organization? It’s not as simple as putting a few mterics in place to measure the outcome. If the Mission is spiritual, it’s very difficult to measure. I am totally stuck! How do you foster an organizational culture that is charecterized by open and transparent communication, and respect for other faiths? How do you measure this? Any hlep with be appreciated!

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