Your mission statement, either your personal one or the one used by your organization, should be the guiding force behind all your decision making.
It’s usually when I make a grand and sweeping statement like this when my clients start to get their tail feathers ruffled. You might think we where shooting a toilet paper commercial because of the parade of “buts” that follow. For example, in this case, I might hear something along the lines of “But if times are constantly changing, then shouldn’t we bend our mission from time to time?” or my favorite, “But my budget won’t allow me/us to do the work of our stated mission?”
Simmer down folks and listen up. It’s time we had a heart to heart about what mission statements are and how they are intended to be used. Mission statements are supposed to be your North Star when it comes to decision making in your career or for your organization. Here are a few helpful thoughts to consider when examining your mission statement:
1.) Listen to the buts. If you find yourself constantly trying to reason your way around your organizational or personal stated mission– then maybe you need to re-examine the mission itself. In order to do take a second look at your mission statement and successfully determine whether or not your mission is effective, you will need to ask some important questions.
2.) What is the work we/I do? This is where you’ll need to get serious and specific. For this program, or specific organization– what exactly is the artistic work you are doing? Spell it out. You might feel that you are limiting yourself, but I’d like for you to reframe your specificity as a way of focusing your efforts and putting the odds for success more in your favor.
3.) Determine who are your real stakeholders. That means not just the people you think you are working with such as audience members and your performers. I mean EVERYBODY. Vendors, audience members by different types, local businesses associated with you, people in your outreach/engagement work, coworkers, friends, spouses and family— create a brainstorm map with you at the center and everyone else your work is connected to radiating from it. You’ll be surprised to discover that your artistic work may affect many more people than you had originally considered.
4.) Make sure the nuts and bolts are all there. Your mission statement is not like Ikea furniture, and thus it should be made for the long term and not the short term. Your mission statement should include your unchanging values about the work you are doing, as well as a clearly defined purpose for your organization’s existence. (Or more simply, why do you do the work you do?). Here’s a hint– don’t be vague or ambiguous. If you can’t articulate how the artistic work you do fills a specific need, no one else will be able to guess it for you. You might also want to include a brief statement about the vision you have for how your work will impact the need you have outlined over the course of the future. This helps others to imagine the logical progression of the work you are doing.
5. Lastly, stick to the plan. Your refined mission statement can now act as a litmus test for all your other decisions. Consider your mission and ask yourself, “If I choose A, does this serve my stakeholders? Is it directly related to the work we do? Is this decision in line with my values?” Sticking to your mission helps you to make strong and decisive answers to the questions you will face in your path, even when the right answer may be uncomfortable.
So remember folks, your mission is what it’s all about.
In my previous post, I got you thinking about how you feel about the work your arts organization does, and how effective it is. Since that last post, I think it’s safe to say that the question has been nagging at you and you are eager to investigate it a little bit further—or you wouldn’t be back here today reading this post. You’ve probably been analyzing all the things that you encounter in your day to day activities that you can attribute problems to. When I ask people to tell me what they feel is holding their organization back, clients usually will name a person who they tend to blame for organizational troubles. Then, the next most popular answer is about not having enough money to do the work they want to do.
I told you at the beginning of this series that we were going to “bite our thumbs” at some of the traditions that PLAGUE are in use in arts organization today. We are going to start right now.
1. Don’t use scapegoats to explain your organization’s troubles. Throughout this process, I encourage you to constantly analyze cause and effect, but with a spin. For every cause, I’ll need you to think of at least 3 effects, and for every effect, I’ll need you to think of 3 possible causes. We are going to climb out from behind our desks and up onto a ladder where we can get a bird’s eye view of the entire situation. Nothing is exempt from examination, or inspection.
2. Never, ever, forget that the stakeholders in your organization—your Board, your staff, your interns, your donors, and most of all your audience—they are all people. These are all living breathing human beings with emotions, feelings, goals, and aspirations, and goals of their own. As you look to repair, innovate, and build your organization, you will make human-to-human interaction a primary consideration for the actions you take.
3. Ask why? Ask it often. Ask it again and again. For everything in your organization you will ask why. Why is this necessary? Why do we need to do it this way? Why does this serve our mission? Why do we need to take this action? Why are we doing this kind of work? Why do we think we need this? Why do you think you are right? Why do you have an issue with this? Why do we do things this way? Why does our audience need us? Why do we present performances this way? Why do we interact with our audience this way? I know that is a lot of questions, but each one will help you to define what is necessary and what is working in your organization. When you pose the question, if you get a concise and strong answer, then you will know that cause and effect has been done. You can trust that you are headed in the direction you are intending and not backtracking in anyway.
Are you ready to do these things? Whether you are an Executive Director, and intern, or somewhere in between, you can be a leader for innovation and change in the arts organization you serve. You can set the example—you can be the change you wish to see. In the next post in this series, we are going to look at how asking why? can get help you de-clutter and streamline your work, ditch distraction, and fast-track you to effective change.