Monday, June 15, 2015

A Mission is Short and to the Point

Two weeks ago I provided an example of a Strategy Agenda, a new term I've introduced in my association to represent the essential work product of our Board of Directors. Comprised of four distinct elements, each one nesting in the one that precedes it, our Strategy Agenda describes what we want to achieve and how we will measure our success in achieving it.

This week I want to spend a little more time talking about the first and highest of the four elements: the mission.

As I've previously described, my association's mission is to strengthen the fluid power industry. In its construction, it is a fairly common mission as trade associations go. I know. A few years ago, when our Board was re-examining our mission, I spent some time visiting the websites of 20 or so other manufacturing-based trade associations to see how they defined their missions. As I recall, strengthening or representing or advocating for or helping to grow the many different industries these associations served were the most common phrases I found.

And that makes sense. As I like to say, a mission is a statement of an organization's essential purpose, the thing it has been created to do, the thing that wouldn't otherwise get done if the organization wasn't there to do it. In our case, that's strengthening the industry to which all of our members belong.

But as simple as that definition is, accurate mission statements often elude otherwise well-intentioned organizations. I've seen them saddled with ideas and terms that don't belong there, with ends statements and strategic priorities being the two most common additions.

I've used my own terminology there, so let me try to clarify. Ends statements go by a variety of different names, with vision statements probably the most popular alternate. They are essentially statements of a future world the organization is trying to create over a long period of time. And strategic priorities also go by many names, with goals, objectives, and key program areas popular choices. They describe things the association will achieve, usually in a shorter period of time, and usually with a much higher degree of certainty.

So let me cite some examples of missions that include these concepts, using our own parlance. Were we to add an ends statement to our mission, it might look something like this:

Our mission is to strengthen the fluid power industry by engaging with government agencies and universities to develop fundamental knowledge of fluid power and educate the next generation of scientific and engineering leaders in the field.

And if we were to add a strategic priority:

Our mission is to strengthen the fluid power industry by promoting fluid power technology and fostering an innovative environment for the fluid power industry.

In my experience, that little word "by" is a dead giveaway that you've left the realm of the mission and you've strayed into the territory of vision or objective. Any time you start talking about how your going to accomplish your mission, you're not talking about your mission any more. You're still talking about something important--something that clearly belongs on your strategy agenda--but putting these elements into your mission risks obscuring the vital purpose of your organization.

After all, your organization likely doesn't accomplish its mission by doing only one thing. Neither does mine. As I've mentioned previously, my association has three strategic priorities and seven ends statements. Trying to work them all into our mission statement would create a very long and unwieldy sentence that no one would be able to remember.

And that's important. You want a short mission because you want people to remember it. Both people inside and people outside your organization. Obscuring or confusing people as to what your organization's essential purpose is never a good idea.

So keep those missions short and to the point.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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