Mission Statement and Consensus Exercise

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Objectives -

"If you don't know where you're going, any path will get you there."

Missions are useful things but they are just words. What is critical is not the word on the page but the process of development which gets the executives at the top into some agreement and alignment and which transfers ownership of the end result to the front-line workers.

My approach is to set up tabletops of 5 to 6 people, let them process the list, then interact with the others not at their table and get some ideas (5 minutes), and then return to their own table to process the new input and write something down for presentation to the entire group. It will be mostly their own, but influenced by the others.

Explanation of Fast Networks Exercise:

Give the tabletops 3 minutes to brainstorm their ideas.

Then they have 5 minutes to run around and ask anyone from another table about their ideas.

The last (3) minutes are to be spent putting all the ideas together and generating their summary.

Play the timing by ear -- let them do each stage THINKING that they are under time pressure (tends to keep them focused) but judge the time by the level of animation of discussion.

INSIST that they stand up during the networking (middle) phase or some will just sit at their own tabletops and hope others come to them.

The reasons Fast Networks works so well:

-- Time pressure generates focus

-- Discussions get the group involved (keep tabletops 4 to 6)

-- Shared ownership and cross-fertilization between tables

The key, as a general rule when using the approach, is to have "tight" questions. Questions can be of any subject.

At the 1996 ASTD Trends in Management Development Forum session I led, I had about 20 teams each focused on one of 9 questions about what they perceived as trends or issues in MD. It was a fast-paced, highly interactive session where we got 20 sets of 4 to 5 opinions total. There was some overlap -- call it confirmation. But the majority of people stayed because of their shared involvement with their and the other teams.

Facilitation and Processing this development process.

I use the Fast Networks framework to get every member of each tabletop Mission Statement Development Team to interact with at least 3 other people not on their team for their thoughts and ideas about the mission and about key phrases or words that should appear.

Once the people are done with this part of Fast Networks (I allow about 5 minutes for the networking), then they reassemble at their tabletops and have "3 minutes" to share ideas, collect thoughts and put together a statement of mission. (The 3 minutes is a metaphor -- it puts a sense of pressure on the teams to work faster. Quality is less important at this stage than impressions and initial thoughts of the team.

Once that gets going well, I'll pause the group and ask if they might want to present their ideas to the others. Of course they do! So, I give them transparency film and water-color felt-tipped markets on which to write. I do this because it is easier to photocopy their work off a transparency and better, I think, than to re-type it for them. (Too sterile!).

You could also use flip chart paper, should that be easier given training room logistic issues.

Then, have each group present and insure that each group applauds the efforts of the others. My style is to let the group self-manage this activity instead of me focusing as "moderator." I let them sort out who presents first, etc. My goal is to give them as much ownership of the ideas and process as possible.

You might also provide them with a typed list of different styles of mission statements (paragraph, separate sentences, sentences and bullets, etc.) You'll find that some of the ones "in print" are quite long while others are quite short. My favorite: French Foreign Legion: "March or Die."

I try to let them know that anything they develop is fair game.

My experience with existing organizations is that the CONTENT of most of the mission statements the teams develop is similar. Main themes tend to come through clearly and it is not uncommon for certain words to appear in every single one.

Writing styles can vary significantly. No two may be alike. But it is really the CONTENT and not the expression that are important at this stage.

When the representations are done, I allow the real group leader to facilitate a discussion of how to capture the main ideas, maybe selecting a team to develop a "proof" of a final mission statement that they share back with the group.

One can also take this a step farther and share this mission statement draft with employees. A simple, one-page survey works well. Key themes can be:

* Does this mission statement reflect your understanding of the goals of the organization?

* Do you believe our senior management can live by this?

* Do you believe your manager can live by this?

* Can you operate by this in your daily efforts

and use a simple Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree system.

You might also allow a couple of inches (or the back of the form) for feedback. Those of you with electronic communications might consider doing this by email (although you lose anonymity) or via a short-lived intranet webpage where people could respond anonymously.

You might want to use an external facilitator if the process might become "charged" or political. That would seem to be more the exception than the rule. Our experience with this has been exceptionally positive.

Here's the list of Mission Statements and Phrases

Potential Words for a Mission

The following is a summary of potential key words that can be incorporated into any Mission Statement and/or Statement of Principles and Values.

Circle the words that you would like to see in a Mission Statement:




consistent / ly





and the list goes on...

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