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Mission and Vision- Beacon or Bunch of meaningless words?

Posted in Personal Effectiveness by Rashmi Datt on June 7th, 2011

“What do you want to be when you grow up?’ was my husband’s favourite question, which he would ask our kids’ friends when they came home. As they grew into their pre-teens, it would be accompanied by the rolling of my daughter’s eyes (‘It’s an old-fashioned question, papa’ she would admonish later). But my husband was happily oblivious of these minor embarrassments; it was his way of connecting and understanding with the world of the ‘new generation’-What were their aspirations? What were their dreams? Where were they headed? Who were they? And as the kids grew older, their clarity, sureness and comfort with who they were diminished.

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Organizations publish their own mission and vision statements in their business plans and staff handbooks, which they have determined by long and in-depth strategy sessions. They are also answering the same question: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ These statements explain to both customers as well as employees what the company does and how it will do it, so that employees can appreciate how what they do is linked to a greater purpose. It is a leadership tool to help guide organization-wide decision-making and execution.

It is a separate matter that when asked ‘what is your organization’s mission statement?’, I have seen many senior managers dive sheepishly into their files because they can’t remember the ‘exact wordings’. So the question that begs to be answered is: Are organization vision and mission statements really serving the purpose of creating identification, passion and alignment in the employees with the company’s goals?

Empowering yourself by writing your personal mission and vision statement

Let’s move away from the organization for a moment, and move to the individual employee. Do you have a mission and vision statement for your own life? Would you like to focus your energies and increase your productivity?

In the everyday pressure of daily living, I found myself distracted by the unnecessary and the unimportant :

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- watching too much TV, internet surfing, or window shopping

- fretting about things over which I have no control

- getting into conflict over issues which really don’t matter so much (except an overwhelming desire to prove I am more right than the other person).

At the end of it all I felt dissatisfied at not having achieved much. I suppose this is true for many of us. But clarifying my mission and vision statement (and reviewing it periodically) has helped me to get back on track.

How to write a mission and vision statement ?

A mission statement is a statement of your life purpose. A vision statement is a statement of the unique and distinctive ways that you will accomplish your purpose.

Let me warn you, a mission statement not easy to write – it requires identifying the key values or pillars of your life, and pondering over fuzzy questions which have no immediate answers, like:

• Who am I?

• What would I really like to be or do in my life?

• What are my strengths? What are my achievements?

• How do I want to be remembered?

• What accomplishments would I like to realize in my life-time?

• What are my highest priority life goals?

You may not see a clear picture right now, and that’s fine. Relax. Don’t worry. Look at it like a Sherlock Holmes mystery to be solved and enjoy the process. But as you start answering the questions, the jigsaw pieces slowly start falling into place. Your mission statement is not etched in stone. You can and should revisit it periodically to revise and fine-tune it time and again.

Select your most important words and combine in one sentence or put your most important sentences together and combine in one short paragraph. List some positive words – words of aspiration and inspiration are important. The first iteration of your personal mission statement is ready!

Some examples of personal mission and vision

In his book, ‘Drive’ Daniel Pink explores ‘the surprising truths about what motivates us.’ He identifies three big drivers of performance and success: Autonomy our ‘innate capacity for self-direction’; Mastery, ‘the urge to get better at stuff’; and Purpose—‘what’s the one sentence that describes who you are, and what really gets us up in the morning’.

Dan Pink tells a story about Clare Booth Luce, the playwright, journalist and Republican Member of Congress. In 1962, Luce met with President Kennedy, who was at the time, pursuing an ambitious agenda domestically and overseas. She worried about his diffuse priorities. ‘A great man,’ she advised him, ‘is one sentence.’ President Lincoln’s sentence was obvious, ‘He preserved the union and freed the slaves.’ So was FD Roosevelt’s, ‘He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win a World War.’ What, Luce challenged the young, impatient president, was to be his sentence?

This is a powerful question: ‘What’s my sentence?’ not just for great presidents, but for ordinary souls like you and me. This will help answer the question: ‘What do I want to accomplish this year? This month? This week? What the best use of my time today?’

(I always recommend to organizations who are about to embark on a vision and mission setting journey that members first reflect upon personal mission and vision. This helps them connect with the organizational exercise which follows)

3 Responses to 'Mission and Vision- Beacon or Bunch of meaningless words?'

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  1. Rama Sundaram said, on June 14th, 2011 at 11:52 am

    A vision statement , whether for an individual or organization depends crucially on the ambition of an individual.
    It is very important to have the right ambition .
    A class mate of mine wanted to to do Civil Engineering so he could become a corrupt Executive Engineer in the PWD of the state he came from. He achieved and surpassed his ambition – he became , probably, the most corrupt Executive Engineer the state had seen. He resolutley refused all promotions , intentionally committed mistakes to be passed over for time scale promotions so he could remain an Executive Engineer all his life. The roads got washed away and the bridges collpased becasue it was all built with sub standard material while he pocketed the loot ! And, while his colleagues made Superintending Engineer or, even Chief Engineer he was happy being Executive Engineer . He had achieved his life’s ambition and was content and, I seriously wonder how many achieve even that.
    Or, has it been a case of “wrong” ambition ?

  2. Rashmi Datt said, on June 14th, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    You are absolutely right Raghu! Its a tough issue to grapple with. One reason why people dont apply themselves to it is it is forcing them to commit themselves to a cause, and inherent in it is the risk ‘what if I dont make it?’ But at the same time people fear having lived a ‘life without purpose’

  3. Rashmi Datt said, on June 14th, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    @Rama, this is an interesting one where the person certainly had his vision statement laid out, and had unusual focus, but with the wrong values! Its important to marry a well-thought out and sound value-system along with one’s life goals. Thanks for sharing this story, because it provides another side of the story, namely ultimate satisfaction will come from a life lived with meaningful purpose.

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