Culture: Mission

by Ron Potter

Everyone has a different definition of Mission, Vision, Values, etc.  I’m not here to promote one definition or the other, I’m just going to use the definition found in the Denison Culture Survey.


Mission is the title of the first quadrant.

“Do we know where we are going?” is how Denison describes this quadrant.  Whether you call it mission, vision or whatever, that simple question gets to the heart of this quadrant.

Clarity and Alignment

Do the people, including the leaders, know where they’re going?

  • What are they trying to accomplish?
  • Do they see the big picture?
  • Are they simply trying to accomplish tasks?
  • Can they give the “elevator” speech about where the company is going in the future?

There’s an old story about the early days of the space mission.  As one of the scientists was leaving the building, he walked past a janitor sweeping up in the cavernous assembly building.  Wanting to be friendly, the scientist asked, “What are you doing there?”  The person sweeping up replies “Haven’t you heard?  We’re going to the moon!”  Regardless of the position in the company, every person knew the mission of the company.


Vision is about keeping an eye on the long-term vs the short-term.  I’ve seen many corporate leadership teams make decisions that no one thinks will be healthy for the company long-term, but it will help them meet quarterly reporting to wall street and investors.

Some of the corporate leaders I’ve talked with this about will reply that their mission and vision is to make money.  I’m sorry, but it’s not!  Simon Sinek, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, clearly states the profits are not “why” we do something, profits are a result of what we do.  It’s always a result.  It’s only a result.

Goals and Objectives

I love golf analogies.  They speak to so many aspects of life.  One of the differences between average golfers and really good golfers is their image of the target.  To the average golfer, the target is often the ball.  We end up concentrating on hitting the ball rather than producing a swing that will launch the ball toward the true target, that spot down the fairway or the green.

In average corporate cultures, the target is often getting to work, doing your job and going home at night.  All too often, there is little thought about what the real target is and everyday work is going to help achieve the desired results.

Great cultures help all employees understand how their work will advance the corporation toward the goal.

Do people really understand the connection between their daily goals and objectives and the long-term goals and objectives of the corporation or team?  Great cultures do.

Strategic Direction and Intent

The world changes rapidly around us.

  •  Competition changes.  We talk about this change with words like disruption.  A competitor invents something new or puts a new twist on things that disrupt the entire industry.  If a culture has good strategic direction and intent, they are constantly looking out for and watching competitors so they don’t become a victim of disruption.
  • The consumer changes.  The Consumer Packaged Goods industry has been dealing with this over the last few years.  If you look at the pre-packaged food industry, you’ve seen CEO changes, Board changes, buy-outs, and consolidation.  Everyone is looking for a way to combat the disruption.  Many times it happens because these companies have had tremendous success for decades and it’s hard for them to think that the strategy that got them here won’t get them through this next threat.  You can’t think that way anymore.  Consumers are changing too fast.
  • The industry changes.  I could go down many paths on this issue but I’ll choose one, government regulation!  When regulations change it can affect an entire industry almost overnight.  Great cultures are prepared.
Scenario Planning

One approach that I’ve seen work well to combat all of these shortcomings is scenario planning.  Pick a few “worst-case scenarios.”  Even if no one on the team thinks this could possibly happen, make a list of the worst possible events the team can think of.  Then do some scenario planning.  Spend some time talking about “what if” parts of or even the whole scenario were to happen, what would we do?

Teams that have gone through these scenario planning sessions are more apt to see changes sooner and less likely to make panic moves to counter the change once it’s obvious.  They feel like they’ve already faced this issue and know in general what they need to do to counter or mitigate the negative impact.  And they did it during calm times, not times of panic.

Companies that constantly keep these three things in mind create Great Cultures:

  • Vision:  Does everyone in the company know what the desired future looks like?
  • Goals and Objectives:  Does everyone know how their daily work impacts that long-term vision?
  • Strategic Direction and Intent:  Does everyone know that the future is filled with challenges but we’ve tried to think through many scenarios?  Are they able to raise the alarm if they see things happening that could trigger one of the disruption scenarios?

You’ll note that I started each one of those segments with “Does everyone….”  That’s the point of building a great culture.  It’s transparent.  It’s well known.  People can speak up from everywhere if they see disruption coming.

One of the best CEO’s I’ve seen would spend time walking and talking with people throughout the company.  He often said that he got the best early warning signals came from the truck drivers and people who worked in shipping.  They seemed to be intuned with “the street” and if he would ask, they gave him early signals of things changing.

Culture means everybody, not just the leadership team and their direct reports.  Is the whole organization aware of the Mission?

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