- Understand the role of mission and vision in organizing.
- Understand the role of mission and vision in leading.
- Understand the role of mission and vision in controlling.
Mission and vision play such a prominent role in the planning facet of the P-O-L-C framework. However, you are probably not surprised to learn that their role does not stop there. Beyond the relationship between mission and vision, strategy, and goals and objectives, you should expect to see mission and vision being related to the organizing, leading, and controlling aspects as well. Let’s look at these three areas in turn.
Mission, Vision, and Organizing
Organizing is the function of management that involves developing an organizational structure and allocating human resources to ensure the accomplishment of objectives. The organizing facet of the P-O-L-C framework typically includes subjects such as organization design, staffing, and organizational culture. With regard to organizing, it is useful to think about alignment between the mission and vision and various organizing activities. For instance, organizational design is a formal, guided process for integrating the people, information, and technology of an organization. It is used to match the form of the organization as closely as possible to the purpose(s) the organization seeks to achieve. Through the design process, organizations act to improve the probability that the collective efforts of members will be successful.
Organization design should reflect and support the strategy—in that sense, organizational design is a set of decision guidelines by which members will choose appropriate actions, appropriate in terms of their support for the strategy. As you learned in the previous section, the strategy is derived from the mission and vision statements and from the organization’s basic values. Strategy unifies the intent of the organization and focuses members toward actions designed to accomplish desired outcomes. The strategy encourages actions that support the purpose and discourages those that do not.
To organize, you must connect people with each other in meaningful and purposeful ways. Further, you must connect people—human resources—with the information and technology necessary for them to be successful. Organization structure defines the formal relationships among people and specifies both their roles and their responsibilities. Administrative systems govern the organization through guidelines, procedures, and policies. Information and technology define the process(es) through which members achieve outcomes. Each element must support each of the others, and together they must support the organization’s purpose, as reflected in its mission and vision.
For example, in 2006, Disney acquired Pixar, a firm is renowned for its creative prowess in animated entertainment. Disney summarizes the Pixar strategy like this: “Pixar’s [strategy] is to combine proprietary technology and world-class creative talent to develop computer-animated feature films with memorable characters and heartwarming stories that appeal to audiences of all ages (Pixar, 2008).” Disney has helped Pixar achieve this strategy through an important combination of structural design choices. First, Pixar is an independent division of Disney and is empowered to make independent choices in all aspects of idea development. Second, Pixar gives its “creatives”—its artists, writers, and designers—great leeway over decision making. Third, Pixar protects its creatives’ ability to share work in progress, up and down the hierarchy, with the aim of getting it even better. Finally, after each project, teams conduct “postmortems” to catalog what went right and what went wrong. This way, innovations gained through new projects can be shared with later projects, while at the same time sharing knowledge about potential pitfalls (Catmull, 2008).
Organizational culture is the workplace environment formulated from the interaction of the employees in the workplace. Organizational culture is defined by all of the life experiences, strengths, weaknesses, education, upbringing, and other attributes of the employees. While executive leaders play a large role in defining organizational culture by their actions and leadership, all employees contribute to the organizational culture.
As you might imagine, achieving alignment between mission and vision and organizational culture can be very powerful, but culture is also difficult to change. This means that if you are seeking to change your vision or mission, your ability to change the organization’s culture to support those new directions may be difficult, or, at least, slow to achieve.
For instance, in 2000, Procter & Gamble (P&G) sought to change a fundamental part of its vision in a way that asked the organization to source more of its innovations from external partners. Historically, P&G had invested heavily in research and development and internal sources of innovation—so much so that “not invented here” (known informally as NIH) was the dominant cultural mind-set (Lafley & Charan, 2008). NIH describes a sociological, corporate, or institutional culture that avoids using products, research, or knowledge that originated anywhere other than inside the organization. It is normally used in a pejorative sense. As a sociological phenomenon, the “not invented here” syndrome is manifested as an unwillingness to adopt an idea or product because it originates from another culture. P&G has been able to combat this NIH bias and gradually change its culture toward one that is more open to external contributions, and hence in much better alignment with its current mission and vision.
Social networks are often referred to as the “invisible organization.” They consist of individuals or organizations connected by one or more specific types of interdependency. You are probably already active in social networks through such Web communities as MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn. However, these sites are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the emerging body of knowledge surrounding social networks. Networks deliver three unique advantages: access to “private” information (i.e., information that companies do not want competitors to have), access to diverse skill sets, and power. You may be surprised to learn that many big companies have breakdowns in communications even in divisions where the work on one project should be related to work on another. Going back to our Pixar example, for instance, Disney is fostering a network among members of its Pixar division in a way that they are more likely to share information and learn from others. The open internal network also means that a cartoon designer might have easier access to a computer programmer and together they can figure out a more innovative solution. Finally, since Pixar promotes communication across hierarchical levels and gives creatives decision-making authority, the typical power plays that might impede sharing innovation and individual creativity are prevented. Managers see these three network advantages at work every day but might not pause to consider how their networks regulate them.
Mission, Vision, and Leading
Leading involves influencing others toward the attainment of organizational objectives. Leading and leadership are nearly synonymous with the notions of mission and vision. We might describe a very purposeful person as being “on a mission.” As an example, Steve Demos had the personal mission of replacing cow’s milk with soy milk in U.S. supermarkets, and this mission led to his vision for, and strategy behind, the firm White Wave and its Silk line of soy milk products (Carpenter & Sanders, 2006). Similarly, we typically think of some individuals as leaders because they are visionary. For instance, when Walt Disney suggested building a theme park in a Florida swamp back in the early 1960s, few other people in the world seemed to share his view.
Any task—whether launching Silk or building the Disney empire— is that much more difficult if attempted alone. Therefore, the more that a mission or vision challenges the status quo—and recognizing that good vision statements always need to create some dissonance with the status quo—the greater will be the organization’s need of what leadership researcher Shiba calls “real change leaders”—people who will help diffuse the revolutionary philosophy even while the leader (i.e., the founder or CEO) is not present. Without real change leaders, a revolutionary vision would remain a mere idea of the visionary CEO—they are the ones who make the implementation of the transformation real.
In most cases where we think of revolutionary companies, we associate the organization’s vision with its leader—for instance, Apple and Steve Jobs, Dell and Michael Dell, or Google with the team of Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Most important, in all three of these organizations, the leaders focused on creating an organization with a noble mission that enabled the employees and management team to achieve not only the strategic breakthrough but to also realize their personal dreams in the process. Speaking to the larger relationship between mission, vision, strategy, and leadership, are the Eight principles of visionary leadership, derived from Shiba’s 2001 book, Four Practical Revolutions in Management (summarized in “Eight Principles of Visionary Leadership”)(Shiba & Walden, 2001).
Eight Principles of Visionary Leadership
- Principle 1: The visionary leader must do on-site observation leading to personal perception of changes in societal values from an outsider’s point of view.
- Principle 2: Even though there is resistance, never give up; squeeze the resistance between outside-in (i.e., customer or society-led) pressure in combination with top-down inside instruction.
- Principle 3: Revolution is begun with symbolic disruption of the old or traditional system through top-down efforts to create chaos within the organization.
- Principle 4: The direction of revolution is illustrated by a symbolically visible image and the visionary leader’s symbolic behavior.
- Principle 5: Quickly establishing new physical, organizational, and behavioral systems is essential for successful revolution.
- Principle 6: Real change leaders are necessary to enable revolution.
- Principle 7: Create an innovative system to provide feedback from results.
- Principle 8: Create a daily operation system, including a new work structure, new approach to human capabilities and improvement activities.
Vision That Pervades the Organization
A broader definition of visionary leadership suggests that, if many or most of an organization’s employees understand and identify with the mission and vision, efficiency will increase because the organization’s members “on the front lines” will be making decisions fully aligned with the organization’s goals. Efficiency is achieved with limited hands-on supervision because the mission and vision serve as a form of cruise control. To make frontline responsibility effective, leadership must learn to trust workers and give them sufficient opportunities to develop quality decision-making skills.
The classic case about Johnsonville Sausage, recounted by CEO Ralph Stayer, documents how that company dramatically improved its fortunes after Stayer shared responsibility for the mission and vision, and ultimately development of the actual strategy, with all of his employees. His vision was the quest for an answer to “What Johnsonville would have to be to sell the most expensive sausage in the industry and still have the biggest market share (Stayer, 1990)?” Of course, he made other important changes as well, such as decentralizing decision making and tying individual’s rewards to company-wide performance, but he initiated them by communicating the organization’s mission and vision and letting his employees know that he believed they could make the choices and decisions needed to realize them.
Mission and vision are also relevant to leadership well beyond the impact of one or several top executives. Even beyond existing employees, various stakeholders—customers, suppliers, prospective new employees—are visiting organizations’ Web sites to read their mission and vision statements. In the process, they are trying to understand what kind of organization they are reading about and what the organization’s values and ethics are. Ultimately, they are seeking to determine whether the organization and what it stands for are a good fit for them.
Vision, Mission, and Controlling
Controlling involves ensuring that performance does not deviate from standards. Controlling consists of three steps: (1) establishing performance standards, (2) comparing actual performance against standards, and (3) taking corrective action when necessary. Mission and vision are both directly and indirectly related to all three steps.
Recall that mission and vision tell a story about an organization’s purpose and aspirations. Mission and vision statements are often ambiguous by design because they are intended to inform the strategy not be the strategy. Nevertheless, those statements typically provide a general compass heading for the organization and its employees. For instance, vision may say something about innovativeness, growth, or firm performance, and the firm will likely have set measurable objectives related to these. Performance standards often exceed actual performance but, ideally, managers will outline a set of metrics that can help to predict the future, not just evaluate the past.
It is helpful to think about such metrics as leading, lagging, and pacing indicators. A leading indicator actually serves to predict where the firm is going, in terms of performance. For instance, General Electric asks customers whether they will refer it new business, and GE’s managers have found that this measure of customer satisfaction does a pretty good job of predicting future sales. A pacing indicator tells you in real time that the organization is on track, for example, in on-time deliveries or machinery that is in operation (as opposed to being under repair or in maintenance). A lagging indicator is the one we are all most familiar with. Firm financial performance, for instance, is an accounting-based summary of how well the firm has done historically. Even if managers can calculate such performance quickly, the information is still historic and not pacing or leading. Increasingly, firms compile a set of such leading, lagging, and pacing goals and objectives and organize them in the form of a dashboard or Balanced Scorecard.
Actual Versus Desired Performance
The goals and objectives that flow from your mission and vision provide a basis for assessing actual versus desired performance. In many ways, such goals and objectives provide a natural feedback loop that helps managers see when and how they are succeeding and where they might need to take corrective action. This is one reason goals and objectives should ideally be specific and measurable. Moreover, to the extent that they serve as leading, lagging, and pacing performance metrics, they enable managers to take corrective action on any deviations from goals before too much damage has been done.
Finally, just as mission and vision should lead to specific and measurable goals and objectives and thus provide a basis for comparing actual and desired performance, corrective action should also be prompted in cases where performance deviates negatively from performance objectives. It is important to point out that while mission and vision may signal the need for corrective action, because they are rather general, high-level statements they typically will not spell out what specific actions—that latter part is the role of strategy, and mission and vision are critical for good strategies but not substitutes for them. A mission and vision are statements of self-worth. Their purpose is not only to motivate employees to take meaningful action but also to give leadership a standard for monitoring progress. It also tells external audiences how your organization wishes to be viewed and have its progress and successes gauged.
Strategic human resources management (SHRM) reflects the aim of integrating the organization’s human capital—its people—into the mission and vision. Human resources management alignment means to integrate decisions about people with decisions about the results an organization is trying to obtain. Research indicates that organizations that successfully align human resources management with mission and vision accomplishment do so by integrating SHRM into the planning process, emphasizing human resources activities that support mission goals, and building strong human resources/management capabilities and relationships (Gerhart & Rynes, 2003).
In addition to being a key part of the planning process, mission and vision also play key roles in the organizing, leading, and controlling functions of management. While mission and vision start the planning function, they are best realized when accounted for across all four functions of management—P-O-L-C. In planning, mission and vision help to generate specific goals and objectives and to develop the strategy for achieving them. Mission and vision guide choices about organizing, too, from structure to organizational culture. The cultural dimension is one reason mission and vision are most effective when they pervade the leadership of the entire organization, rather than being just the focus of senior management. Finally, mission and vision are tied to the three key steps of controlling: (1) establishing performance standards, (2) comparing actual performance against standards, and (3) taking corrective action when necessary. Since people make the place, ultimately strategic human resources management must bring these pieces together.
- How might mission and vision influence organizational design?
- How might mission and vision influence leadership practices?
- Why might a specific replacement CEO candidate be a good or poor choice for a firm with an existing mission and vision?
- Which aspects of controlling do mission and vision influence?
- Why are mission and vision relevant to the management of internal organizational social networks?
- What performance standards might reinforce a firm’s mission and vision?
- What is the role of mission and vision with strategic human resource management?
Carpenter, M. A., & Sanders, W. G. (2006). Strategic management: A dynamic perspective. (1st ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice-Hall.
Catmull, E. (2008, September). How Pixar fosters collective creativity. Harvard Business Review, 1–11.
Gerhart, B. A., & Rynes, S. L. (2003). Compensation: Theory, Evidence, and Strategic Implications. Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage.
Lafley, A. G., & Charan, R. (2008). The game changer. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Crown Books.
Pixar, retrieved October 27, 2008, from http://www.pixar.com/companyinfo/about_us/overview.htm
Shiba, S., & Walden, D. (2001). Four practical revolutions in management: Systems for creating unique organizational capability. New York: Productivity Press.
Stayer, R. (1990, November). How I learned to let my workers lead. Harvard Business Review.