posted 8 Mar 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 6
The Gurteen perspective
By David Gurteen
I was recently asked to comment on a vision statement that an organisation was proposing for a knowledge management (KM) initiative. This brought my thoughts – and apprehensions – about vision and mission statements flooding back. And so I thought I’d try to capture the essence of my thoughts about them here.
A vision or mission statement should be written for a specific entity. Entities can be whole organisations, departments, teams or even individuals. Others, of course, will have a vested interest in the initiative. This includes shareholders, customers, suppliers, partners and more. And within an organisation there are other audiences – such as senior management, middle management and staff – some of which (but not all) may be part of the entity in question.
A key point to keep in mind is that a statement’s purpose is to focus and inspire the people who are doing the actual work, but it is helpful if it appeals to these other audiences as well.
Too often, statements are self-serving and read like marketing messages. They talk about being the biggest or the best in the business, which may appeal to executive vanity, but totally fails to motivate the people responsible for making the mssion a reality.
Vision and mission statements are also often confused.
A vision statement is a succinct declaration of what an entity would like to see in the long term. Ideally it should be a single sentence. Its prime purpose is to inspire.
A mission statement should concisely capture the purpose of the entity – what the entity intends to do to achieve the vision. It should be a sentence or two. No more.
I am not sure you always need both a vision and a mission statement: a single crystal-clear motivational statement of purpose that people can remember is more likely to be effective. Here are some mission statements from a few well-known companies.
Walt Disney: ‘To make people happy’;
3M: ‘To solve unsolved problems innovatively’;
Merck: ‘To preserve and improve human life’.
So what makes a good KM mission statement? Well, given that KM is everyone’s job, I think it should be written for the whole organisation and in some way should help to inspire and focus people to better work together, share knowledge, and learn from each other to achieve their objectives.
Ideally, it should tie in to one of the strategic objectives of the organisation or be one of those objectives in its own right. A KM mission statement I come across recently read: ‘To connect our people, clients and knowledge to increase growth, profitability and quality of services.’
This seems designed for the KM team and to appeal to senior management. It is not designed for the people within the organisation who have to make it a reality.
So at the risk of complicating things a little, I feel that there should be two mission statements: one for the KM team and another for the entire organisation.
This brings me to one final point. For a statement to have any impact it must be crafted, agreed upon and bought into being by the people who will ultimately bring it to fruition.
So the first task of the KM team is to work with everyone involved to define the overall mission. The mission of the KM team is then simply ‘to help the people in the organisation achieve that vision’.
Of course the next stage of defining exactly what needs to be done – setting the high-level strategies and objectives in terms of business outcomes for achieving the mission is equally important.
David Gurteen is the founder of the Gurteen Knowledge Community. He can be contacted at www.gurteen.com.