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.
Why? It’s possibly the most annoying question in any language. But it is also one of the strongest tools we have to cutting through the excess that slows down our organization’s work. Think of “WHY?” as organizational Drano®. Asking this question can clear the way for your organization’s course of action to achieving your mission. It can also be used to improve workflows, staff efficiency, and relieve tons of negative energy and feelings your staff may be working under. It can change your working conditions in ways that inspire members of the organization to fully commit themselves to your organization’s cause.
Use WHY? to weed the garden.
If the focus of this whole process is to better serve your constituency or audience—then ask yourself why do they need your organization? What do we provide that cannot be obtained through another organization? If your organization has a mission statement, then now is the time to look at the sacred mission statement and shine the burning light of WHY? onto it. Let’s take a look at an example. If you are an orchestra and your mission is to present concerts to audiences of every age, then you might be asking the following questions: “If our mission mentions nothing about music education, then why do we spend a third of our budget on teaching artists in the schools?” “If the founding mission of this organization states that we are to present concerts of to audiences of every age, then why are we not equally programming concert experiences for the very old as well as the very young?” As you can see, the use of WHY? allows you to determine dissonance between your organization’s stated mission and your actions. If you can’t make a cogent answer to the question, then you know that an action taken by your organization or some part of it is not on board with the organizational plan.
I should mention that missions can change over time. However, changing your organization’s mission is nothing to take lightly. You must have good reason and strong support to do it. It is very common in the arts world for organizations to expand their missions in order to be able to apply for more funding for various projects. It happens frequently with education divisions in orchestras. Organizations who do this risk what I call the “Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none” Syndrome. They become lukewarm at all of the things they do, and quality suffers across the board. We are not servants to the organizational budget, and the bottom line is not the ultimate importance in what we do. It is better for us to view ourselves as stewards to the people we serve. Our primary directive in all that we do is to consider the mission that was laid out in the charter of the organization. When we realign ourselves with our core mission, we can begin to reconcile mission and budget in ways so that one fully supports the other.
Your next step is to ask WHY? to everything and everyone, but also to yourself. Your actions and your intentions must also be examined. Do not judge whether a policy, and employee, or a process is bad or good based on whether or not they can back up their WHY? At this time, you are using the question as a way to gain a bird’s eye perspective of your organization—not to reenact the Spanish Inquisition. You are gathering data. In my next post, we will talk about how to analyze the data you’ve gathered to take your first action steps to changing your organization. We will learn how to remove the obstacles that slow down or obstruct your art from getting to the people you serve.