Make communication central to achieving your organization’s mission
Successful accomplishment of your organization’s mission depends heavily on effective communication.
Your organization’s mission statement is vital because it defines the organization’s purpose and reason for existence. The mission statement should be about the core solutions your leaders believe the organization provides in society.
Incidentally, a mission is not about making a profit or delivering a return on investment to shareholders, which are by-products of achieving the mission.
Organizational mission or purpose provides a consistent guide for strategic decisions. Once the statement is finalized, many other vital management practices should flow from it such as strategic planning, culture and values development, employee engagement, and communication strategy.
Top management and strategy teams work hard to develop a mission statement. It is important for the head of communication to be included in this development process because a good mission statement relates to key stakeholders, especially employees, customers, shareholders, and financiers, who are the domain of the communication function.
A mission statement can be written for any organization, large and small, including individual business units and departments within an organization, and PR consultancies.
A mission statement is different from a vision statement, which states where the organization wishes to be, its desired state at a future time if management’s intentions are achieved.
Here are some good examples of organizational mission statements of high-profile companies:
- eBay: Provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.
- Facebook: Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
- Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.
The IKEA ‘business idea’ is the equivalent of the retailer’s mission statement.
Nordstrom’s ‘founding philosophy’ is the equivalent of the retailer’s mission statement.
Quite often organizations will use different terms for the corporate mission, eg priorities, purpose, ‘lofty objective’ (Warby Parker), ‘Credo’ (Johnson & Johnson), strategy, primary objective, etc.
Sometimes management will get carried away and come up with a ‘mission statement’ that is too vague and generic to be useful. For instance, the non-profit Life is Good uses the ‘one simple, unifying mission: spread the power of optimism.’ Same with a couple of companies selected at random from the Fortune 500 company list:
- Avery Dennison: ‘To be the world leader in products, services and solutions that enable and transform the way consumers and businesses gather, manage, distribute and communicate information’.
- Avaya: ‘Provide the world’s best communications solutions that enable businesses to excel.’
Sample organization and department mission statements
Organization mission statement. Be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat.
Department mission statement. The Creative Services Department’s mission is to help grow the McDonald’s business through creative, cost-effective, face-to-face and electronic communications support.
Organization mission statement. Our mission is to offer our clients a variety of recovery services for distressed debt portfolios, while reflecting the highest standards of performance and customer service.
Department mission statement. The Plaza Associates Training Department’s mission is to ensure that a well-informed, prepared and motivated employee population can effectively perform company processes and practices.
Castle Oil Corporation
Organization mission statement. To provide the highest quality fuel oil and natural gas products and service at competitive prices.
Department mission statement. The Human Resources Department’s mission is to be a business partner in assisting employees and management alike to work in an environment that fosters high morale and allows for continued growth and profitability.
Mission of the PR/communication department
Many business units such as operating divisions develop their own mission to support the organization’s mission. And in turn, the PR department can develop its own mission statement to clarify its role and direction. The mission of the typical PR department is to:
- Collect and analyze information on changing trends in the external environment that will affect the organization’s relationships with stakeholders
- Act as the central channel of communication between the organization and its stakeholders
- Communicate significant information to keep stakeholders aware of organizational policies and actions
- Coordinate activities that affect the organization’s relationships with its stakeholders.
For practical purposes a mission statement is the same as a purpose statement, although some people argue they are separate concepts. They maintain a mission statement focuses on the business the entity is in – the ‘what’ and ‘how’ – while a purpose statement may deal with the ‘why’ – the reason why the organization wishes to improve the lives of stakeholders. However, the mission statement can cover all this.
Mission keeps the organization on course
Gallup research shows that a compelling purpose promotes organizational success in measurable ways, including higher profitability, fewer accidents and lower turnover. Here are specific steps organizations can take to reap the benefits of working to a mission or purpose. All these steps require astute communication supported by your leaders:
- Build a robust organizational identity. Gallup’s analysis shows that organizational identity has three parts: purpose/mission, brand and culture. These parts are important and meaningful in their own right. But when measured and managed together, they give direction for achieving high performance by communicating consistent messages to key stakeholders, especially employees and customers.
- Build a distinctive brand that conveys the organization’s desired position in the marketplace. When a company starts with a well-defined and well-supported purpose or mission, it can achieve this. The brand promise states what the company offers, what separates it from its rivals and what makes it worthy of customers’ consideration.
- Facilitate a culture based on purpose. A culture basically refers to the behaviors that are usually conducted without much conscious thought. Gallup research indicates high-performing cultures are characterized by an ability to:
- align (consistency between mission, strategy, and shared employee behaviors),
- execute (move in the agreed-upon direction with minimal friction), and
- renew (continuously improve at a pace that exceeds competitors).
- Base recruitment activities on the mission. People crave purpose. Talented, high-performing employees want to work for a company that has a distinct identity with sound values, a well-articulated brand and a reputation for making a difference in customers’ lives.
- Cultivate employee engagement. Research on employee engagement reveals a mission-driven workforce is more productive, profitable and committed to the company.
The mission statement remains a core reference point and inspiration in the digital age. However, its importance can sometimes be overlooked due to busy day-to-day activities. In fact, some leaders don’t think too much about it once it is developed, which can lessen forward momentum.
Many executives don’t realize a mission statement is an under-used asset in improving organizational performance and profitability, and as a result they neglect their ultimate responsibility of aligning their brand and culture with their highest purpose.
This means there is a disconnect between what the organization professes and what employees perceive. Most leaders and managers are failing to connect employees with their company’s mission or to sustain a purpose-driven culture. For instance, in my own corporate career I can’t think of an employer that consistently, or even occasionally, used its mission as a compass point for organizational direction, decision-making or communication. This is a sad reflection on executives who paid only lip service to the importance of the concept.
What’s worse – advice from experts like Leandro Herrero is that often the most powerful leadership instructions are the ones that are unsaid. If the organizational leaders neglect to support the mission, employees take notice of this implicit direction.
Unless your people know their core mission or purpose, and they specifically support the intention expressed in the mission statement, and act to accomplish that mission, the end results will fall short of good intentions.
One of the questions in Gallup’s famous 12-question survey on employee engagement, asks respondents: “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.”
Although two thirds of senior managers in a typical company strongly agree with the question, less than one third of frontline workers do. Effective communication plays a large part in addressing the frontline deficiency.
The communication role
Leadership is communication. A survey of 1,400 leaders, managers and executives by the Ken Blanchard group (he is author of the famous business book, The One Minute Manager) found the ability to communicate appropriately is an essential component of effective leadership. Around 43% of respondents identified communication skills as the most critical skill set, while 41% identified the inappropriate use of communication as the number one mistake leaders make.
The formulation of a mission statement requires communication at every stage – and the head of communication/PR should insist on being directly involved with their organizational leaders in the whole process to ensure it is communicated effectively. The stages would be:
- Communicators should set the scene for the start of the process by informing stakeholders the development or review of a mission statement is forthcoming, and asking for thoughts on this vital topic.
- The head of corporate communication should attend and contribute to the group discussions or brainstorming by the leadership group. Ideally this communicator can make a valuable contribution through their experience gained in the boundary-spanning function of the communication/PR role.
- The communication/PR group should develop a comprehensive communication strategy internally to cascade at all levels of the organization and externally to all key stakeholders and influencers. Many business units, such as operating divisions, develop their own mission in support of the organization’s mission. And in turn, the communication/PR department can develop its own mission statement to clarify its role and direction. More on this later in this article.
How communicators can help at the frontline
Research shows that employees are the most important stakeholder group. When they are on board, various performance indicators improve, such as increased revenue and profitability.
Communication to employees supporting the mission should promote commitment to the organization and help to bolster their sense of belonging. This communication should also strengthen awareness of the changing operating environment for their employer as well as increase their understanding and support of the organizational mission and goals, directly and indirectly.
It is difficult to translate macro mission statement and strategies into concepts relevant to frontline workers. However, it is worth trying to break down the high-level concepts into terms and practical KPIs that workers can understand and support.
A valuable activity is to meet with key influencers among frontline workers and hold a discussion or at least focus group/s to find out what is important to them to try to bridge the gap between the cascade down and the cascade up. The kinds of useful questions that can be asked can be like these:
- “What sort of presence does our company have in this area?”
- “What does the operation here mean to the local community?”
- “What is the difference your unit makes to people’s lives here and elsewhere?”
- “What would be the impact locally if we moved somewhere else or closed this operation?”
- “What would you do to keep the operation going here if there was a threat to its existence?”
- “What could you do to keep the doors open and achieve your local mission?”
Talk about these questions — and the answers – with the workers, and invite them all to respond. Listen carefully to what they say, and help them craft their local mission statements that support the organizational mission statement.