Alan's corner: Here's how regional companies must shape their vision and mission
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Alan’s corner: Here’s how regional companies must shape their vision and mission

Alan’s corner: Here’s how regional companies must shape their vision and mission

An organisation’s vision and mission statements must provide context for all its decisions and action


Sailors on the open seas who have no other fixed points for reference, use the stars for navigation. They can find Polaris, one of the brightest stars in the universe, because it neither rises nor sets. The fixed position of this North Star directly above the North Pole is a permanent nightly beacon from dusk to dawn.

What is it that makes global brands so successful and iconic within their own industries? I believe they all have at least one thing in common and it’s not that difficult. With a North Star that is clearly defined and communicated, everyone can navigate from where they are to where they need to be.

At a micro or individual level, that is shaped by a job description and possibly a set of objectives. At an organisational level, it is influenced by annual strategies and tactics. But the overarching long-term compass is the vision and mission of the business.

Many organisations already have vision and mission statements. But how many times have you seen such statements on a website, clearly not being lived in practice? Can you narrate yours without checking it? If not, can you truly say it is being lived?

Remember Enron, one of the most famous and biggest corporate collapses in history? Its mission statement declared, “We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.”

Your vision and mission statements remove ambiguity and provide context for all decisions and actions. These statements also have to be consistent with your proposition and should not just be taglines and logos. Jim Collins in his book Good to Great talks about the Hedgehog Principle. “Regardless of what clever antics the fox gets up to in trying to catch the hedgehog – the ‘stupid hedgehog’ just rolls up into a ball every single time. It never deviates from its core ‘modus operandi’ despite the myriad of different challenges and opportunities it faces.”

Tips on aligning ambition
Organisations regularly mix and confuse their vision and mission statements. To simplify it, see the vision as an inward target and aspiration that you want to aim for in the future. The mission statement is your external purpose and how you intend to deliver your vision. Both are important and should be linked.

Here are some thoughts to help you shape or revisit your vision and mission.

1. What words would you like your key stakeholders (owner, team, customers, competitors, suppliers, media) to be saying about you in five years’ time?
2. What perception do you want to create in your employees and customers?
3. What is your brand promise?
4. What are the core values of your brand that guide your behaviour and business practices?
5. What are your brand’s distinctive advantages, i.e. your USP?
6. What compelling reasons will your customers have to buy from you?
7. What compelling reasons are there for your own people to be passionate about your brand and really get behind it?
8. What standards of performance excellence will you demand from your people, your processes and your financials?
9. Can you be the best in your market segment?
10. Can you make money from it; is it commercially viable?

When you have listed key words and phrases, craft statements that are unique to you. This is a wordsmithing exercise that you may need help with.

Try to keep them short and punchy.

The last word
The vision for Selfridges department store in the UK is: “To be the destination for the most extraordinary customer experiences.” And its mission is: “We are here to surprise, amaze and amuse our customers – and everyone is welcome.”

I worked with the Selfridges executive team in developing this. We did it by drawing on its heritage, the ambitions of its current owners and its desired position in the UK marketplace. Refreshing the culture and shaping a strategy (more on those topics in the next issues) fell into place quite easily thereafter.

Alan O’Neill is a change consultant and speaker

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