A charity’s vision, mission and strategic objectives serve a number of different functions, but when looking at organisational culture, the most important one is unifying staff, volunteers and trustees with a shared set of goals.
People at all levels of the organisation knowing why they are there, and feeling connected to the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve….
The purpose of your organisational vision should be to unite people – not in the work that they do, but in the changed world that their work will bring about.
The example we often use at DSC is borrowed from the NASA space programme during the 1960s. The vision: Mankind in Space. Big, bold, unlikely in the short-term and not fulfilled by a single mission or action, but aspirational and easy to imagine.
The critical question to ask is: what does the world look like if we’ve achieved everything we’re here to do? Think big, and think amazing,. Think of all of the staff, volunteers, trustees and beneficiaries that have ever been connected to your organisation standing together and being able to say “we did it”.
An organisational mission serves a slightly different purpose. It is still about connecting people to a shared goal, but that goal should feel far more achievable in the medium term. Think something you could reasonably achieve within 3-5 years, that would contribute to achieving your vision. It should still be big, but this is the part where some definition or measurables should be coming into the picture.
To stretch the NASA example, the mission was “A man on the moon by the end of the decade”. Still a massive undertaking, but a more achievable goal with clear parameters. Less than the vision, but certainly a big step (or giant leap) towards it.
In terms of its impact on organisational culture, the mission clearly still serves that unifying function, giving people a shared goal that they are working towards. Regular reporting and tracking of progress towards achieving the mission are a critical way of keeping it alive, and maintaining that connection between the day-to-day work of everyone in the organisation, and the big difference they are making collectively.
The other function it can serve, is to provide a frame for explaining and communicating big decisions. Being clear about what you are trying to achieve also makes it easier to be clear about what you’re not going to do. Shutting down the “Rocket to Mars” programme, despite it serving the vision, so that you can get everyone working on the mission of getting to the moon, is easier to communicate and get everyone united around if they understand the bigger purpose.
Strategic objectives should be a lot more measurable, and over a much shorter time-frame. These are the things like building a rocket, developing the software to control it, creating mission control etc. Still big steps that might be multi-year goals, but they should be clear, and may start to look quite separate in some cases. If the rocket building team are working separately to the mission control team, the vision and mission should connect them. And knowing that there are strategic objectives not connected directly to their area, but absolutely connected to the bigger picture, should re-enforce the collective nature of everyone’s work.
Strategic objectives should have clear plans to achieve them that are monitored, tracked and reported. Progress towards them should be relatively quick, at least in organisational terms, so it should be easy to report demonstrable progress across the organisation on a monthly, or at least quarterly basis.
Using these progress reports is a great way to regularly re-connect everyone to the vision, share successes, bring people together to address challenges, and make them a regular part of your internal communications.
Developing them together
The best way to develop your vision, mission and objectives, and use them to build your organisational culture, is to involve everyone in the organisation. Having them set by the trustees or CEO and just briefing them will make it so much more difficult for people to feel connected to them.
Consult at every level of the organisation, and you’ll both get better results and better engagement from everyone involved. It may seem like work, but some simple group conversations with trustees, staff, volunteers and beneficiaries are all it really takes to get through that first stage of determining the vision.
Just the process of having an organisation-wide conversation about why you are all there will have a massively positive impact on bringing people together – even if there are disagreements along the way.
Once that is agreed (probably by your board of trustees), brief everyone, and then it’s on to the mission. Go through the same process, with a simple “what would a big step towards our vision look like in 3-5 years?”. Collate the responses, have conversations with your trustees, and make a decision.
Once that is agreed, then it’s time to work on the strategic objectives. This is the bit where open consultation involving everyone may feel more scary, or even risky. Remember, the conversation is the important thing, and there may be some friction as certain areas of work are prioritised or not. There will almost certainly need to be big decisions at this stage about what makes the cut, but again, use the vision and mission to frame those decisions and it will be easier for everyone to see why they were made, even if they don’t agree.
Once you have your vision, mission and strategic objectives, use them ALL THE TIME. In staff briefings, in reports, in updates, in 121s with staff, everywhere. Use it to connect the work staff and volunteers are doing with the amazing new world you are all working towards – and we’ll be looking at using communication to build your organisational culture next week.