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Industry Insights

Interview With Strive! (Part 2)

The following is the second part of a recent interview between Ralph Kikkert of Strive! and Jason Bouwman, Compass Creative. In this segment they discuss the importance of defining and communicating the mission and vision of an organization or business. This has been edited for brevity, but you can also hear the full interview in the audio version. Part One can be read in our previous blog post.

PART II: Clarity and Alignment

Ralph: When asking why you exist, as a prerequisite to getting a website, is that as an individual or as a business or both?

Jason: Always as a business. We're always talking about the identity, the culture and the personality of a brand, which typically encompasses a number of people.

Which is also why clarity is so important, because each of those people need to be aligned to a mission and a vision as well. If we have four people in an organization and they all want to go in a different direction, how am I ever going to design communications and tools that would satisfy four different ideas?

Ralph: One of the things that we've talked about is that vision and mission in many ways inspire how people make choices.

Jason: I actually just tweeted about that. A mission statement should actually push some people away and a vision statement should inspire whoever is left.

What we've observed with many mission statements is that they are written so ambiguously and generically, they lose meaning. So if you'd say, "We exist to honestly provide services for our clients and value for our shareholders," that doesn't tell me anything about you.

You can't be all things to all people and so a mission needs to define who you are, and who you are to a particular group. You need definition and clarity to attract some people, and by its very nature push some people away. Then you can really focus on the people that you're seeking or that are thinking along the same lines.

The vision of course is, “This is how we see things somewhere down the road." That's meant to inspire people to come on board either as employees or as donors or as customers.

Ralph: The vision is to tug at the heart of people that they can say, "Yes, I believe in this cause." I like what you said, too, that a mission is very purposeful and motivational and that it helps people make choices.

Jason: If I could use another analogy, just looking at mission, vision, strategic planning, why we plan, and I was thinking of a car journey. If someone wants to hop in their car and drive around aimlessly, they have every right to do that…they might get somewhere or they might not. I'm reminded of a quote that I'm quite fond of by Yogi Berra:

"Be careful if you don't know where you're going 'cause you might not get there."

But once you start bringing other people on board and say, "Hey, can you help pay for gas? Can you drive for me?" questions get asked: "Where am I driving to? How much gas do we need? Do we have the resources to pay for that?" And--

Ralph: And where are we going?

Jason: ...and "Where are we going?" The ultimate question is "Where are we going and is that where I want to go?" because if I'm going to help, is that where I really want to end up?" So the mission statement becomes important because one guy might say, "I'm going across the country to L.A. I hear it's warm there. They have beaches there and palm trees. Is that cool?“ I say, "Yes, I want to go there too." So we hop on board and we divvy up the tasks, we divvy up the costs, and we bring along people. We explain, “Hey, let's escape and go down there.” Now I have a mission. The why is to escape and go somewhere where it's warm. And I have a vision: beaches and palm trees.

The planning process then starts. “How are we going to get there in the quickest way possible?” “Who do we need to take along to help us get there?”

So you can kind of see where these different things fall into place. And obviously the person that's leading that journey has a story to tell to compel other people to get them on board and sign up and tell them when they're leaving and what days they're leaving.

Another guy might come out and say, "I'm going to Texas. I hear they've got cows down there." And that might be a whole other story that compels a whole different group of people. And then their vision, “Here's what it's going to be like when we get there” needs to inspire the people that have said, "Yeah, I want to go there too."

Ralph: Let's talk a bit more about that because if you're on a board and you've got a variety of people with different visions (expressed or not), or even at a business where you may have partners without one unified vision, one direction. How do we deal with that?

Jason: Yeah, brilliant question. I think the way to deal with it is honesty and communication. It's so basic and so simple and yet I really think that's ultimately the answer.

What happens when you have a bus with ten people and they all want to get to a different place? Without someone saying, "Look, ultimately this bus is going here. Now, if the bus is going to L.A., and you only want to go to Cincinnati, well, tell us now so that, you can be a part of this journey for the first half and then get off at Cincinnati. But if we're not even going to come close to Cincinnati, maybe you want to pick another bus now.”

But those are the difficult conversations that we don't want to have. It starts with two people being honest about where they want to go. Is there synergy between our two missions? Because we do all ultimately have places we want to go.

Ralph: I like the comment that we need to be honest with each other. And that's definitely where one needs to build that trust so the honesty comes.

The challenge we sometimes see in organizations is that they don't know where they need to go or want to go. Also, I don't think the leaders communicate or articulate it enough.

Jason: Yeah. I think sometimes people can be on the bus just because the driver's a cool guy. It's like, “Wherever you're going I'm going because I just think you're cool and I want to hang out with you.” But we need to be real about that – everyone needs to be given opportunity to reflect on and to communicate what it is they're doing.

What happens when you don't – and I firmly believe this is where a lot of office politics and board politics come into play – is people don't openly share what their vision for the organization is. And when there's not a common mission or vision that's clearly articulated, people start to push and pull the organization in the way that they want it to go. And then it’s simply the people who are either stronger or more persuasive or more powerful that start driving the bus.

Jason: We have to stop and pull out the map and say, "Well, this is what we all agreed to." If we never even had an agreement in the first place, it becomes very difficult to navigate.

Ralph: So, when you talk of alignment, who all do we need aligned?

Jason: Everyone. There are many moving parts. But, maybe a quick list for any organization would be, at the top, board members. They would need to know what the organization is about, where it's going and what the vision is. Under that, you would have your CEO or your leadership team who's in charge of making decisions to realize that mission. Then, the staff of the place, who make even more decisions. Maybe they're smaller ones, but they need to be enabled to make those decisions in the best interest of an organization. They clearly need to know where the organization's going to do the best job they can.

Outside the organization, you're going to need either customers or, in the case of a not-for-profit organization, donors or members, who are compelled and inspired and who align with that mission and say, "Yes, that helps me or, "I agree with that."

And in the case of certain charities, there's even a final piece that needs to be aligned, and that's the ultimate benefactor. Who is it that this charity is helping? So, there's a lot of different people within organizations that need to be aligned with the answers to the questions, “Where is this thing going?” and “Is that where I think it should go?”

Ralph: Okay. And the greater the alignment, the greater the clarity, the greater the results you would anticipate of the organization, and no doubt then the development of the website.

Jason: That's right. And it’s not just a one-time event. It's not like you write your mission and your vision and then you stick it on a shelf somewhere and ignore it. This is something that needs to hang on the walls of the organization. It needs to come into the conversations that the CEO has regularly. It's something that employees need to remind each other of. It has to become part of the culture. Because the power of it is that that alignment will happen kind of naturally. You won't need to fire people. They'll move on. They'll feel, this isn't really part of who they are-- and they'll move on and feel good about it.

Ralph: I think I just want to reiterate this point. We need to let people move on when they don't support the vision and mission, when they don't support the cause. I think too often organizations try to be, like with vision and mission, all things to all people. We do that with our audiences. We do that with our staff. Whether it's for selfish reasons or for other reasons. We need to let them go to find another place where they can serve.

Jason: Or be honest with them and say, "Look, we really need your particular skill. We acknowledge that this might not be quite the right place for you, but we need this skill, so how can we reconcile that difference?" But at least you've identified that there's an issue there, there's misalignment, and then you can work on it. There are creative ways around all of that. But without really addressing it, we tend to just deal with the stress and the anxiety and the politics within the organization without really knowing why those things exist. It's largely due to a lack of alignment, which is due to largely a lack of clarity about mission and vision.

The final segment of this interview will be posted next week. If you have any thoughts on anything you’ve read here, we encourage you to join in the discussion on the comments thread. Thanks for your interest.

Written by Carol Classen

March 8, 2012