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Purpose

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Content provided by University of St.Gallen, Institute of Technology Management

Guiding Question

Do we know why we are working together?

Why

Your team will face many challenges in the upcoming months and years. To master these challenges, a strong bond and alignment within the team is essential.

This can (partly) be achieved by defining a common vision, mission as well as common values. However, this is not a one-off task – once defined (with the aim of long-term impact), they need to be regularly reflected upon after certain time or events (based on actual implementation).

The following sub-chapters tries to guide you through the process(es) providing details about each step.

What

A strong and pragmatic framework to define the vision, mission and value statements of a startup is the following (following Kirkpatrick, 2016):

1. Vision (WHY)

"The idealistic, timeless dream"

  • Formal description of the organisation’s desired, long-term future state. (2)
  • Explains why a company exists, which kind of positive impact the team is aiming at
  • Creates shared meaning/understanding among team members, inspiration, motivation, attraction
  • Form: statement

2. Mission (WHAT)

"The realistic long-term goal"

  • Defines the products or services provided to customers or constituents. (2)
  • Can include perspectives of various stakeholder
  • "We do X to achieve Y"
  • Form: statement

3. Values (HOW)

"The desired character of a company"

  • Define the means or behaviours by which the organisation will go about attaining its vision. (2)
  • The rules of the game: what is (not) acceptable behaviour?(does not provide the path = strategy*)
  • Shown by promoted employees
  • Form: list / behavioral statement
Attributes of impactful vision/mission statements (see Glossary below for definitions)
  • First-order criteria: clarity, future focus, abstractness & challenge, idealism
  • Second-order criteria: brevity, uniqueness, success definition

*Strategy: explains how the mission and vision will be carried out

How to

  • There are initial thoughts/statements in any company!
  • Usually, companies are on one of the following five development stages: (2)
  • Stage 1: The uncommunicated statement(s)
    • Founder(s) had an inspiration for founding the company, but have neither communicated nor implemented it
    • Sources can be: experienced problems, career experiences etc.
    Stage 2: The unstated, yet implemented statement(s)
    • Founder(s) have implemented an unstated vision
    • This is often the case, causes are: still searching for right wording, too busy, unawareness of importance of stating vision/mission/values
    • Works only up to a company size of 30 employees, since it requires constant communication & frequent one-on-one conversations
    Stage 3: The formally stated statement(s)
    • A process was run through in order to formally write down the statements
    Stage 4: The refined statement(s)
    • The statements have also already been refined (after collecting feedback)
    Stage 5: Re-examined statement(s)
    • The statements are also re-examined after certain time periods/events
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  • Depending on the quality of your previous efforts and your current stage, decide yourself where to enter the following ideal 4-step process (2, MGR):
  • 1. Develop
    Form a planning group
    • Options: only founders / TMT / all team members / all stakeholders (e.g. investors)
    • Think of inviting an external facilitator/moderator
    Develop initial statements within planning group
    Plan working session
    • Timeframe: single day workshop / whole weekend
    • Location: offices / inspiring location (e.g. mountains)
    • Invitation: invite all participants, share an agenda with them
      • Make them prepare (share definitions and success criteria)
      • Define the goal of the session
      • Make sure participants sleep enough the night before the event (e.g. make them arrive at the event location already the evening before the official start)
    Have working session together
    Create a positive atmosphere first
    • Have coffee/tee and informal chats
    • Make sure there are no interpersonal issues among participants (if so, take time to solve them → talk, talk, talk)
    • Suggest to switch off phones, laptops and other disturbing devices
    Transition into working session "mode"
    • Recap why you came together
    • Create common understanding of vision - mission - values
      • It is more important to have a common understanding of what a vision / mission is than following the exact statement definitions above
      • Just make sure that all members of the planning group are aligned and know the success criteria of what you call vision/mission/values!
    • Depending on the size of your group: split up in sub-groups
    • Define a moderator for each group
      • Have external moderator(s)
      • Make groups choose an internal moderator
    Start working session (Part I)
    • Moderator(s) start off by asking thought provoking questions to generate a debate within group(s)
    • Initial ideas are jotted down on a wall/poster (by the moderator)
      • Go step-by-step: vision > mission > values
      • E.g. use post-its
    Take breaks
    • This is a creative process, which takes time!
    • Have lunch together, where you should try not talking about the content
    Start working session (Part II)
    • If you worked in separate groups in Part I:
      • Let each group present to each other the initial ideas of the morning
      • Integrate initial ideas
    • Recap initial ideas and refine them
      • Are success criteria met?
        • First-order criteria: clarity, future focus, abstractness & challenge, idealism
        • Second-order criteria: brevity, uniqueness, success definition
      • Try to think of potential misinterpretations of different stakeholders
      • Is there better terminology than the your current one used?
    • Agree on a first final draft of the statements (& values)
      • Our vision is "…"
      • Our mission is "…" (generic long-term goal)
        • "…" (customer perspective)
        • "…" (team/employee perspective)
        • "…" (investor perspective)
        • "…" (societal perspective)
      • Our values are "…"
    Articulate initial statements and collect feedback from stakeholders
    • Methodology: formal survey/focus groups/individual interviews
      • Analyse awareness, understanding, and the other success criteria
      • Check to what degree they find them relevant and motivational
    • Goal: identify misunderstandings, find right wording/terminology
    Finalise statements
    • Meet with planning group
    • Agree on final statements based on the feedback collected and group members' reflection on the initial draft after the initial working session
    2. Communicate

    Integrate the statements into any communication taking place within your company

    Leverage standard communication means
    • Office(s) (e.g. posters)
    • Email messages (e.g. info mail, signatures)
    • Website
    • Intranet
    • Pitches, financial reports etc.
    Relate daily communication to the statements
    • Refer daily actions and decisions made to the statements
    Leverage regular meetings
    • E.g. reflect & discuss statements in quarterly OKR meetings
    3. Implement
    Align the organisation's strategy & goals
    • Track/monitor goals
    • Reward people when goals are met
    • Communicate the relevance of meeting goals with regards to the vision/mission
    • Define new goals that bring the company another step closer to the vision/mission
    Align talent management system
    • Align communication and processes of hiring, onboarding, selection, and performance management
    • Provide new employees with copies of the statements
    • Make leaders tell the story / history of the company to new employees
    • Promote only people that respect the statements
    Align organisation's structure
    • If your vision statement mentions two main business lines, consider creating a structure that reflects the visions
    4. Re-examine
    • From time to time:
      • Quarterly (within OKR discussions)
      • Annually
    • After certain events: evolvement of company, market changes etc.
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    💡

    The communication (step 2), implementation (step 3) and regular re-examination (step 4) of the statements is an iterative process that requires time and resources. Many companies neglect step 2-4 and get lost in the daily hustle and bustle. However, these steps are crucial in order to create the aforementioned bond and alignment within a company. Without them, the initial development is almost useless. So create a 'purpose-focused routine' and make the re-examination of the statements a fixed part of regular meetings, such as OKR planning sessions.

Examples

Uber
  • Vision: “We ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.”
  • Mission: “Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone.”
  • Values: "We build globally, we live locally, we are customer obsessed, we celebrate differences, we do the right thing, we act like owners, we persevere, we value ideas over hierarchy, we make big bold bets.”
  • Vision: "Provide access to the world’s information in one click."
  • Mission: "Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful."
  • Values: "Focus on the user and all else will follow, Fast is better than slow, Democracy on the web works, You can make money without doing evil, There’s always more information out there, and great just isn’t good enough."
  • Vision: "To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online."
  • Mission: "We strive to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience."
  • Core Values: customer obsession, ownership, invent and simplify, are right, a lot, hire and develop the best, insist on the highest standards, think big, bias for action, frugality, vocally self-critical, earn trust of others, dive deep, have backbone, disagree and commit, and deliver results

Tools

Copy of Glossary

NameDefinitionSource
Clarity
The extent to which the vision statement is understood by employees
2
Future focus
Describing the desired future (not current) state
2
Abstractness & challenge
Providing a non-concrete, difficult yet achievable future
2
Idealism
Portraying a highly desirable future
2
Brevity
Providing a succinct, easy-to-remember statement
2
Uniqueness
Describing how the organization differentiates itself from other organizations, including its products and services, markets, strategy, or company history
2
Success definition
Stating how the company measures its progress in achieving the desirable future
2

Sources

(1)

(2)

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