Mission, vision and strategy
(There is also a Dutch version of this blog)
In order to go somewhere, you have to know where you have come from. If the destination is a moveable goal, you regularly change direction. We expect leaders to offer us a path, which leads to a good future. The CEO leads his company to more profit in a, per definition, uncertain future. Pursuing such a future is the same as shooting at a moving target. Not infrequently, when the current goal is out of sight, the executive has to search for a new goal. Similar to what the hunter must do when his prey is too smart for him.
The mission is the starting point; the organisation’s right to exist. The vision is the future as we see it, and the strategy is the plan that we believe we must follow to achieve that vision. At least, that is what the professors at the business schools will have us believe. Think up the mission and strategy and during the execution achieve the vision. The reality, however, is many times more complex than the study books promise us.
Waterfall and future tolerate each other badly, very badly
It is tempting to think that if you spend sufficient time in advance thinking about the vision and the strategy, and you then plan these very well, that you have a better chance of achieving these compared to just getting on with the work. The conviction that you can plan and design a great deal in advance is what we call the waterfall method, which is still highly popular. But something that perhaps works for simple projects, no longer works when the project has a long duration. Then, all sorts of things can happen which can throw a spanner in the works of all the wonderful plans which were made to begin with.
A good strategy is always agile
Because the future is unpredictable, the organisation’s management must regularly adjust the vision according to the changing circumstances. This is one of reasons why agile has had an opportunity at all to make inroads into our organisations. When the vision changes, there is a significant chance that the strategy will also change! An organisation, which has a problem adapting itself to this arbitrariness, has an enormous problem.
I was recently at an organisation, which found it necessary to make its project managers agile. I questioned them further about the reason, but no clear answer was forthcoming. It transpired that, on average, making a decision took an average of one and a half years, and then the implementation by the project managers was carried out pretty quickly. When I proposed that it was perhaps better to spend some time looking at the decision procedure, everyone looked at me sheepishly. I seldom have an easy message to tell.
The mission is more certain than the vision
It is not about the vision and the road leading to it. The basis of a versatile strategy is a stable and solid mission. Knowing what your right to exist is, and from there ‘conquering the world’ step-by- step. The strategy emerges and meanders slowly towards the horizon, which we shall never reach; behind each horizon is another new horizon.
If, as organisation, you do not know what your mission is, then success is often nothing more than sheer luck. If you dare to decide what your mission is, then you have a handle for making progress and overcoming setbacks. With a mission you are able to achieve something, and when fate happens, the mission keeps you going.
Four basic questions we have to ask
Who are we? What are we capable of? Who do we know? What do we want?
Who we are determines what motivates us, and how we want to do things; an important ingredient for a good mission. But now, the following: what can you bring to this world, and what is the organisation able to do with the resources available to it? Without co-operation, you cannot get anywhere, and it is the people in your network, therefore, who can help you in achieving your goals and fulfilling your mission. If you have an answer to the first three questions above, then there is no longer any difficulty in answering the fourth question.