Mission, Vision And Purpose � A Challenge To Strategic Planning Thought

Most popular textbooks on strategic planning, and most strategy consultants, advise chief
executives to start the planning process with a Mission or Vision Statement, or both. There
are three reasons why I strongly disagree.

First, it pre-empts the whole point of the strategic planning process.

This process should invite your top people to make a thorough review of all your most fundamental activities and then – and only then – to make major strategic decisions about the way your organization will look in the future.

But if the chief executive of, say, the number three widget maker in Australia begins the planning process by announcing the Mission or his Vision as, “We aim to become Australia’s leading widget manufacturer,” he has made all the big decisions before any of his colleagues have said a word.

He has decided (a) to stick to Australia and not to open up in, say, Southeast Asia;
b) to become number one – not stay number three or two;
c) to continue to make widgets, as opposed to outsourcing their manufacture; and
d) to go on making widgets – rather than making something else.

Second, it invites ego-tripping.

Could this chief executive be using his company as a chariot for his own aggrandisement in the community? It’s not entirely unknown among chief executives! That little widget company will have to throw a disproportionate chunk of its resources into beating its two bigger competitors. Dozens of alternative strategies, and other
uses of capital, were open to it. They never got a look-in.

Third, most Mission and Vision Statements are pretentious nonsense.

Here are three words you must include to be among the stars in that puerile game:
Sustainable,
Partnership,
Excellence.

So – never use Mission or Vision?

No, I said, ‘Never start the planning process with them’.

Once you have fully assessed the situation and decided what the key strategies are to be, by
all means summarise these in a brief, pithy statement – even call it Mission if you wish – so
that your employees, customers and financiers know what you intend to do with your
company and can join in with enthusiasm. The power of a Mission Statement to motivate is
not in doubt.

But if you do not start the planning process with Mission and Vision, where should you start?
By defining your organization’s purpose.

Firstly: Is your company working for its shareholders, or for its stakeholders?

Secondly: What are you trying to do for them?

Next: How much of that should you be generating for them; that is, set long term targets. Finally, by
using your Strengths and Weaknesses to deal with your Threats and Opportunities, select
your strategies to achieve those targets. Then, at long last, I’ll let you compose your Mission
Statement!
(John’s first strategic plan, in 1963, taught him several sharp lessons. By his twentieth, though, he thinks
he got the hang of it. Two thousand organizations, many in Australia, have since purchased The Argenti
System of Strategic Planning).

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