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How organizations can derive their purpose, mission and vision

(This text is a translation from the German original. It is available here.)

Sometimes organizations reach a point where it is not (or no longer) clear to people where the journey is going, where teams no longer feel they are pulling in the same direction and there are frequent discussions about the general direction and next steps. As a result, effectiveness and productivity suffer because there is no clear understanding of how we measure the meaningfulness of our actions. At best, we muddle along; at worst, we put energy into things that turn out to be unnecessary in retrospect. What everyone is longing for is a clearer understanding of why things are done and what the organization is trying to accomplish.

A clear mission and vision for the organization that is shared by the people can fill that very gap! Meaningfully formulated, these are not nice (i.e., meaningless and interchangeable) catchphrases that then disappear into some drawer. Quite the opposite: a clear understanding of the company's purpose, mission and vision provide clarity, orientation and form the basis for an effective strategy. This clarity can release great energy in people to move consciously and with focus in the desired direction. They can also serve as orientation for external parties, who can then decide to work with the organization.

At creaffective, we regularly support our clients in the processes of strategy work to readjust purpose, mission and vision and to derive a strategy and goals based on this.

What we usually do as external facilitators with our customers, in 2021 we did for ourselves.

This was not our first process of this kind, but it had become necessary again. We too had come to a point where we regularly had the discussions mentioned above.

With our clients, the process often involved very large numbers of participants - we've also had large-scale virtual and physical workshops with up to 120 people as part of such facilitation programs. In our case, we went through the process with the entire team of seven in a virtual format.

There is no one best practice that prescribes how this work should be done - the particular context is too complex for that. But there is a basic pattern that we have followed so far in our work with our clients and also in our own case. This is what I would like to describe in this article.

Photo by Anastasia Petrova on Unsplash

Clarify the terms: Purpose, mission and vision

From my experience with clients, I know that there are sometimes quite different definitions of what exactly a mission or a vision expresses. Especially in the case of mission and vision, the different definitions are sometimes at odds with each other. From our experience, it is important that the group involved in the process has a common understanding. Whether this then corresponds to some school of thought is not essential.

We have defined it for our process as follows:

  • The Purpose answers the question of why we exist, what is our purpose for being. It is also our driver to change the status quo.

  • The Mission describes what we are specifically doing to change / fulfill what drives us. It is our response to our purpose.

  • The Vision is an idealized picture of the future and describes what we want to achieve or contribute to through our actions in the future.

We started the process with these definitions.

Some of our clients only define mission and vision and not purpose. Either because this is already clear or because this is not considered necessary and is seen as part of the mission. We deliberately worked with the separating purpose and mission because in our engagement with Sociocracy 3.0 we work with the concept of "drivers" and looking at the two separately, adds value for us.

Step 1: First collection of ideas

Once we have a good enough definition of the terms, we can get started.

The first step is to generate initial formulations. Ideally, we do this alone, without consulting with others. With a group of Koreans, I recently chose to work in teams of two, because that suited their way of working better. So there are already variations in the approach here.

This first individual collection of ideas can be related to one of the building blocks (i.e. purpose, mission or vision), or to all of them in parallel. Here, too, it depends little on the concrete setting up whether we work sequentially or in parallel.

Step 2: Discussion of initial ideas

After a phase of working on your own ideas, they are briefly presented and discussed. In our case with only seven people, we did this for all ideas. In the case of the large virtual workshop I mentioned we had to adapt the process, as there were 120 participants.

Step 3: Create revised version

After everyone has heard each other's ideas and thoughts, everyone has another chance to create a second version. Elements and inspirations from others can be included and incorporated.

Step 4: Identifying the favorites

Now the second version of the wording is presented and explained. Then, by means of a using sticky dots, a few phrases are identified for which most in the group have energy and a good feeling. This manageable number of phrases now serves as the basis for the next step.

Step 5: Create proposals in small groups

Up to and including step 4, it is possible to work well in the form of a workshop that is conducted in one go. For this fifth step, it can be helpful to give more time (e.g., a few days or weeks) so that a small group can now develop concrete proposals. Only then does the entire group come back together in a workshop-like manner.

Based on the prioritized phrases, a small group of two to four people now develops concrete proposals for purpose, mission and vision, which are then to be decided at the next meeting. Ideally, there should be one proposal for each building block. Sometimes, however, this is not yet possible and there will be several options.

Step 6 - x: Adopting a final wording

Depending on the situation, there may now be a final step, or further intermediate steps may be required.

It may happen that the small group has now developed a concrete phrase for each building block, which is now presented to the group. It is possible that the participants have already had the opportunity to see this version and make comments beforehand. If so, this feedback can also be incorporated beforehand.

Either way, the task now is to finalize and approve the phrases. This can happen in small groups by consensus, i.e. everyone agrees and actively says yes to the proposals. Or by consent, i.e. we check whether there are any objections. If not, the proposals are adopted. If there are objections, we have to integrate them and adjust the proposals.

The last aspect may possibly require several loops.

In our own process, we at creaffective started the sixth step with more than one proposal. We then reduced the different options to a smaller number using systemic consensing (a kind of resistance polling) and then made a proposal out of it, which we then adopted using consent decision making.

Depending on the situation, a slightly adapted procedure is needed here at the end, which can only be planned in advance to a limited extent.

Our result

As the illustration of our Miro board suggests, we came up with many variants and options during the process. In the end, however, we only differed in nuances of wording.

The statements for our three building blocks are now as follows (in case anyone has read this far and is now curious):

I include the German original, as this translation might not yet be the most suitable

Our Purpose: "Away from externally determined processes and mindless directives - towards future-proof ways of working."

(German original: „Weg von fremdbestimmten Prozessen und sinnentleerten Vorgaben - hin zu zukunftsfähigen Arbeitsweisen.“)

Our Mission: "Shaping effective collaboration co-creatively - without dogma and bullshit bingo."

(German original: „Wirkungsvolle Zusammenarbeit ko-kreativ gestalten - ohne Dogma und Bullshit-Bingo.“)

Our vision: "A working-world where people in organizations can really make a difference!"

(German original: „Eine Arbeitswelt, in der Menschen in Organisationen wirklich etwas bewegen können!“)

There are also a number of supporting texts that captured our thoughts in more detail, which we can now continue to use in different ways.

These three statements now formed the basis for a process of deriving our new strategy and goals, which we then also carried out at the end of 2021. This process was then very focused and clear, now that we had clarity through the above statements as to why we exist, what we do and where we want to go. (I will describe the strategy process in another post).

It was exciting to experience for ourselves how much can change once a group has answers to these questions.

Need support for the strategy process in your organization? Get in touch with us! We will be happy to support you.

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