Strategic planning is one of those oft-maligned phrases which stinks of corporate America. It involves ideas like Vision and Values and all sorts of other things that companies claim to espouse but probably don’t follow in reality. The principle of strategic planning is sitting down and figuring out what your organization is about and what it wants to do and usually includes a Mission Statement, a list of Values, and a Vision. Mission statements are either overly long, encompassing everything an organization may do, or pithy and non-helpful, such as “We strive to be the premier provider of this service.” But are they really so unhelpful?
Strategic planning is the process of deciding what it is you want your organization to do, look like, act like, and feel like. Theoretically, it should form the foundation for everything an entity does. When in doubt, consult the strategic plan. When a decision needs to be made, consult the strategic plan. This simplifies decision making, makes sure everyone in the organization is on the same page, and creates a clear direction for leadership to pursue.
The problem with strategic planning isn’t the process or idea of the thing. The problem is that it is so rarely done well. This is particularly egregious in the mission statement.
The mission statement should be a concise, clear statement of the fundamental goal of the organization. One of my favorite’s is Pepsi’s old “We sell soda”. I also like IKEA’s, “To create a better everyday life for the many people,” and TED, “Spread ideas.”
I like these because they are short, simple, and help guide the organization. Someone pitches to Pepsi, “Hey, this whole bottled water thing is huge. What should we do?” “Is it soda?” “No.” “Well, then we don’t sell it.” (Obviously, Pepsi changed this position later.) IKEA wants to help EVERYDAY life for MANY people. Will they focus on luxury goods for the 1%? Of course not. A discussion at TED, “I think we could do some really cool dynamic lighting for our next conference!” “Does it help spread ideas?” “Well, no, but it will look amazing!” Mission statements should present a CLEAR direction.
Instead, mission statements often drone on and get endlessly bogged down and watered down. Here are some examples of mission statements I like less:
McDonald’s: “McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink. Our worldwide operations are aligned around a global strategy called the Plan to Win, which centers on an exceptional customer experience–People, Products, Place, Price, and Promotion.”
What are you saying? Why tell us about your operations in your mission statement? Maybe if they had stopped at the first sentence I would be more on board.
An undisclosed vet school: “The mission of the CVM is to improve the health of animals and people by: 1) discovering and disseminating new knowledge and skills, 2) educating current and future veterinarians and biomedical scientists, and 3) providing innovative veterinary services.”
Another: “The College of Veterinary Medicine is dedicated to the enhancement of the health and well-being of animals and human beings through excellence in education, research, professional practice and committed service to the State, the nation and the world.”
Okay, yes… you are a vet school. Of course you do teaching, research, and service. These are mission statements which are so obvious and generic that they are unhelpful for guiding the organization.
Contrast these with some mission statements from vet schools I like:
“Our mission is to advance the health of animals, people, and the environment.”
BOOM! “Should we hire a systems engineer?” “Will it advance the health of animals, people, or environment?” “Yes” “Then do it.” “Should we hire an astrophysicist?” “Will it advance the health of animals, people, or environment?” “No” “Then don’t do it.”
“[Our organization’s] mission is to lead the advancement of health and science for the betterment of animals, humans, and their environment.”
LEADING the advancement, not just following. For the BETTERMENT- this may include physical health, psychological health, or arguably life improvements.
OK, now you know what a mission statement is and my preferences, I would like you to think of a mission statement for yourself. Here are some suggestions:
- Keep it short. One sentence or less.
- It CAN change over time! You don’t need to set in stone your whole purpose in life now.
- This may be really hard, particularly if you are early in your career.
- You may not be generic. No “I want to help animals.”
What is the purpose of this exercise? Well, like an organization’s mission statement, it may help guide your decision making. Many veterinary professionals are familiar with the idea that they constantly get asked to do things, and if they keep saying “yes”, they will have no time for themselves or what they want to do. If you have a mission statement, it can help guide your decision making. Let’s use mine as an example.
“I help people be better,” is my current mission statement. It has been through a few iterations. First, it’s not perfect- it’s probably a little too simplistic. I like it because it reminds me of some core ideas I like: Kaizen and self-determination theory. It pulls in every major thing I have done in my life: Boy Scouts, martial arts, dancing, veterinary medicine, relationships. It’s focused on skill building and maximizing self-actualization. So now let’s put it into practice.
“Vetducator, can you help me with some statistics on this project?” If it’s just plugging some numbers like an automaton, “no”. If it’s helping them learn a little about statistics while running some numbers, and contributing to a quality manuscript which will improve their CV or prepare them for boards or add to the database of humanity, “yes”.
“Vetducator, would you like to add video and podcasts to the blog?” Well, these things will probably help people with their career and life, so yes.
“Vetducator, do you want to write this book chapter?” Have I written one before? If not, I might develop or learn a new skill. If I’m not learning something, will this help others grow as people? Possibly, depending on the subject.
Your life mission statement can be general for your entire life, like mine, or you could focus it just on your professional pursuits. It may not be for everyone, and I thought it was a bit hokey at first. The more time has passed, the more useful I have found having a life mission statement to be. I at least recommend you work through the process to help distill what you really want to do with your life.
Post in the comments with what you think your life mission statement might be. I will comment on the first ten to post! This is a developmental process- post an imperfect one- you can always get better!