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Special User Sections > The Getting Organized Experiment of 2009

Do Visions and Missions work for you?

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IainB:
Do Visions and Missions work for you?
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This is a very interesting Q. Here is a response from my own experience.

I think it would be correct to say that the Q is built on an a priori implicit assumption that visions/missions are necessarily something that we should be doing, and thus asks how we get along with them.

Vision and mission statements are not the same things (but they could be, I suppose, depending on how you defined them). They are simply theoretical tools for planning, and they are both artificial and imaginary concepts.

There are two main areas in life where I have used vision/mission statements:
(a) Personal life-planning
(b) Corporate planning

Personal life-planning:

* In the mid-'80s, I read an interesting book (title now forgotten) on personal life-planning, and what got my attention was the apparent truth of the statement that, even if I only spent (say) 8 hours or so on working through my personal life goals and plans, it could be more time than I or any individual might otherwise ever spend on thinking constructively and in a structured way about life-planning. The question was asked in the book: Surely one's life was worth this small effort?
* I thought it was probably worth it, and so I set about laboriously pulling together a paper-based life plan for myself and my family. I later transferred this to a Lotus Agenda database (this is now obsolete technology), and that enabled my life-planning to become a whole lot more relevant to everything I did (and vice versa). [As far as I am aware, you could not do this today - or get anywhere near it - on any software, though I have looked and looked.]
* This exercise in life-planning was - for me at any rate - useful. It helped me to understand how I could organise my life a little differently to improve the chances of achieving some medium and longer-term goals.
* Then, within the constraints of Pareto's Law,  it was up to me to actually achieve those goals, if I felt sufficiently committed to achieving them.
Corporate Planning:

* In the '90s, I was taught to use a very structured approach to perfecting clear and concise vision and mission statements. These were used as the foundation-stones for drawing up sophisticated and rigorous marketing plans.
* This was whilst I was employed at a leading IT services corporation called "EDS". EDS later slipped into a progressive loss-making state and it is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of HP and renamed as a division called HP Services). The definition of vision/mission statements was part of EDS' strategic marketing planning methodology called "VBM" (Value-Based Marketing), originally developed by and acquired from the Holden Consulting Corporation.
* The VBM methodology was (is) superb, and I still put it into use today where it seems relevant for client work. However, I have found that, in the main, whilst you might have the most brilliant marketing plan, it is just a plan, and if people will not "buy in" to it (i.e., are not committed to it), or cannot understand it, then they will inevitably help to screw the thing up on the execution/implementation of that plan (i.e., it will not be achieved).
* Evidence of this is probably in the decline of EDS' share price to the level that HP could buy them up. EDS had some brilliant marketing plans for re-inventing themselves and for achieving global leadership in their chosen markets, but were unable to successfully execute them. If they had been so able, then they could probably have continued to be world leaders (as they were at one stage) and with a very high market share price.
* I observed what I thought was the start of the EDS decline and left EDS in 1996. At that time, it seemed depressingly clear to me that EDS management were likely to unwittingly ensure that most of EDS' corporate plans would be doomed to failure. The seeds of this had already been planted. In retrospect, I was right, but I take no pleasure from this. I though EDS was a great company, with a bright future potential.
So, that describes how visions/missions have worked for me, in my experience.
I think the most salient points that we need to remember about vision/mission statements are:

* They are, at most, simply theoretical tools/aids for thinking about planning.
* They are both artificial and imaginary concepts.
* They help in planning, which is about imagining a desirable future state and how you might be able to get there.
That's from my direct my experience, and I have learned from that and from history that they can be useful as tools for greater understanding of one's personal life, but they have had a mixed success in business planning, and, under some circumstances they can become a dangerous, double-edged sword.
Scott Adams wrote a while back in the Dilbert blog something to the effect that, when CEOs come out with a corporate vision, they are expecting or asking the Board and employees to believe in and "buy in" to (commit to) the CEO's imagined future state - which is a fantasy or a hallucination. This is irrational by definition, as fantasies are not based on fact or reason.

This might be acceptable, if not of vital necessity, in religions (belief in some kind of imaginary god or super-being), but it could be doubtful in business and politics, no matter how inspiring it may seem, and it can be downright lethal when incorporated into strong religio-political ideologies used for the control of humankind. A classic example of just how dangerous and deadly such a vision could become would be Hitler's Fascist vision for the purity of the dominant Aryan race, cleansed of Jews especially (and not forgetting some other minority groups). This particular vision, apparently "bought into" by the German people as a nation, gave us the legacy of the genocide of an estimated 6 million Jews during the Holocaust in WW2.

Of course, through ignorance and for fear of damaging their employment status or even their survival, most employees/people will probably tend to take the survival track and give supporting lip-service to belief in such of the CEO's fantasies regardless of how stupid they may seem (and I have seen some very stupid vision and mission statements and their associated slogans), whilst covertly not committing to them, and thus sticking with their own, personally held and more pragmatic beliefs.
This is how ignorance, and especially irrational fear, can diminish us and our sense of personal freedom, so that we can be controlled and even (QED in Nazi Germany's case) made sub-human. The courtiers would not tell the Emperor the truth about his new clothes, for fear of looking ridiculous (supposing they were real clothes after all, but you were the only ones who couldn't see them?), or for fear of being thrown out of court for telling the truth. Though some of Hitler's deputies could not see that they had actually done anything wrong, when accused of crimes against humanity, they did not dare to argue with their leaders and "I vas only obeying orders." became an almost classic defence at the Nuremberg trials.

Paul Keith:
In my experience, most clients could care less about your mission or your vision. They prefer to focus on the quality of your service and products, your reputation, and how conscientiously you handle their account on a day to day basis.-40hz
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Of course often times, businesses without visions and missions also have questionable quality and consistency in their products.

I find marketing very funny that way sometimes. Shove stuff you should be following as a culture internally back to customers where they don't care and then shove stuff your customers need back to your staff and making the rare A to the Q&A a hell of a mess.

The VBM methodology was (is) superb, and I still put it into use today where it seems relevant for client work. However, I have found that, in the main, whilst you might have the most brilliant marketing plan, it is just a plan, and if people will not "buy in" to it (i.e., are not committed to it), or cannot understand it, then they will inevitably help to screw the thing up on the execution/implementation of that plan (i.e., it will not be achieved).-IainB
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Could the reason people don't buy into it is due to the plan being a waterfall method? Not trying to sound snarky but as a non-programmer who just read articles explaining why agile methods and start-up style tactics work really well in reality, I often come to the conclusion that business plans are mostly useless except for business pitch, quality control, quality presentation and exit strategy.

I'm not really sure how to link this to visions and missions though (and it seems off-topic to Getting Organized) but your experiences kind of made me want to inquire about this situation.

This might be acceptable, if not of vital necessity, in religions (belief in some kind of imaginary god or super-being), but it could be doubtful in business and politics, no matter how inspiring it may seem, and it can be downright lethal when incorporated into strong religio-political ideologies used for the control of humankind. A classic example of just how dangerous and deadly such a vision could become would be Hitler's Fascist vision for the purity of the dominant Aryan race, cleansed of Jews especially (and not forgetting some other minority groups). This particular vision, apparently "bought into" by the German people as a nation, gave us the legacy of the genocide of an estimated 6 million Jews during the Holocaust in WW2.
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What's your take on the Google and Apple type of cultures? If I'm not mistaken these cultures are even much more stronger within the company than they are to their consumers.

Microsoft too and Facebook has a strong culture as well as most of Silicon Valley but nothing reads as grand as "do no evil" and "privacy except when we're data mining your privacy".

Extra question:

This discussion has made me consider another side-thought:

We often think of businesses or self-help theories when thinking of missions and visions but how do you guys see this concept's efficiency when leaning towards academics?

Externally businesses and personal lives advises aim to hold missions and visions to "improve productivity" but this seems opposite in universities especially business school cultures in that the vision is not to improve productivity but to market a learning system in which students must abide by said protocol and in that culture, we could say the students are being more productive through sheerly being exposed to systems they may be ignorant of acquiring - but do the missions and visions of the school add to that learning productivity or are they merely learning sprinkles where the school connections/courses/facilities/staff are the ones truly adding to the student's productivity by virtue of adding to their knowledge and experience?

IainB:
@Paul Keith:
Just my personal views, for what they are worth:

Marketing seems to be taught as some kind of a creative art form nowadays, whereas I was taught it as being a relatively scientific (numbers-based) and methodical approach, using all sorts of applied human psychology, and to be executed with almost military precision. It was something that drove the business. I am not surprised that you say:
"I find marketing very funny that way sometimes."
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From experience, the real and extremely well-thought-out business plans of most large corporations are often militaristic, mind-blowingly calculating and precise, highly confidential, shrouded in secrecy and rarely published. So, a great deal (if not most) of the marketing that we are able to see and that we are exposed to nowadays is just pap. Most of it seems to hinge around the use of BS and vague or at best ambiguous terminology to label ill-defined things in a way that sweet-talks us into disabling our critical faculties in support of the corporate objectives for profit.

"What's your take on the Google and Apple type of cultures?"
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I expect they are both as bad as each other, in their own ways.
Look at the use of the term "corporate culture". What the heck is that? You could probably define it umpteen different ways, it's so ambiguous. I don't know really what it is, and neither do you, but if the CEO says that the "corporate culture" includes the phrase "Do no evil", then (as employees) we're highly unlikely to ask for a definition of "corporate culture" or argue the toss - no matter how stupid or nebulous it might all sound. So, it sounds just great to us, doesn't it? Of course it does. How could it be bad? The Emperor has some super clothes on.

One of the things that that super, high-sounding phrase ("Do no evil") does is move the focus away from its impossibility in light of the harsh reality that corporations are psychopathic legal persons licensed to operate freely in society (QED the documentary, The Corporation). Any human person would be locked up in a lunatic asylum if they were psychopathic - for our protection - but not so corporations. Such corporations can do and generally will do whatever they can get away with in order to make a profit - for example, leaving a huge footprint on the environment, or poisoning thousands of people with toxic effluent or toxic working conditions. These are simply "externalities" for society to pick up and sort out at society's cost. The one thing that corporations must do by law - they are programmed to do - is make a profit for shareholders (maximise shareholder value). All else is subordinate to this. "Do no evil"? Yeah, right, and pigs have wings.

You ask:
"Could the reason people don't buy into it is due to the plan being a waterfall method?"
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It might be, but I doubt it. I'd still say as above, it is probably because they:
"are not committed to it, or cannot understand it"
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Anyway, why should they buy into it in the first place - especially if it seems stupid/irrational, etc. - and what mandates that you must "buy-in" to another person's fantasy or their arbitrary system of rules? Only fear.
Only in the military must you obey orders without question. The cessation of thinking is decidedly an asset then. History is littered with examples of how generals have stupidly wasted thousands of soldiers' lives in war for no military gain whatsoever. Like lambs to the slaughter.

You talk about:
"this concept's efficiency when leaning towards academics"
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This is all too vague for me, and I can't see that "efficiency" and "academia" are necessarily directly related anyway, and certainly not to the "quality of output".
For example, why put all those poor students through the same sausage-machine process and syllabus (e.g., Engineering), hoping to make "Leaders" of them, when Pareto's Law indicates that only 20% of them will be capable of becoming (can possibly be) 1st Class Thinkers and Leaders and the rest will be B students or less? Surely it would be more efficient to weed out the Bs at the outset, and put them through something more suited to their capabilities where they could be productive contributors to society instead of frustrated would-be leaders not realising their own limitations and let loose to screw things up? Wouldn't that be a more effective use of human talent and resources?

These are hypothetical questions, but they can stimulate thought and debate.

Another example: Deming mentioned how he had been invited to sit in on a lecture at a leading US Business School, where MBA students were being taught about MBO (Management By Objectives). A lot of the students had been sent over from China to learn about Western business management methods. He said what a waste it was, that these Chinese students, who otherwise would have had their thinking uncluttered by such things, would now go back to China with these outdated ideas and stifle the Chinese economy with them just as they had been and were being used to stifle the US economy.
You see, of Deming's 14-point philosophy, one of the points was heretical - to abandon the use of MBO. MBO is a theoretical construct, not a law, but the way it is taught, you have to believe in it to get your grades. This point of Deming's was a heretical point because, not only did it run contrary to conventional wisdom - the conventional wisdom of MBO - but also it slaughtered a sacred cow - it disproved the theory of MBO.

Even adults, it seems, may sometimes need to continue to believe in fairies, or the Emperor's new clothes. Heaven's Gate could not have happened if things were otherwise. Why this is, and why skepticism seems to lie dormant - often when it is most needed - is a mystery to me.

Paul Keith:
Thanks IainB, I got most of that except for Heaven's Gate? What is it?

Over here marketing is still taught that way and I think it's just easier to sell it as creative BS because of more modern metrics and easier ways to just hype it and slick it up and fans will eat it while at the same time turning the products' fans into covert multilevel marketers. (That said I have no degree so I often don't know the specific words and I often end up doing mostly the same and trying to come up with modified terms like covert MLMers)

IainB:
Oh, sorry: Alien death-wish religion

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