Tuesday, February 09, 2010

No Savior in Technology

The global economic melt down has given rise to a whole new form of economic organism. The organisms are almost purely parasitic in nature and their survival depends on their ability to manipulate organizations currently struggling toward survival. Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear about some new company with their ‘new’ analytical tool that will unleash the power in a firm’s data.

As organizations continue to feel the pressures of recessionary economy, they become easy prey for those who believe they have the power to release the bull [market] from within their data. Sadly no matter how one dices, slices or purees the data – the reality is pretty much the same; figures don’t lie.

I believe weathering this economic storm goes beyond data mining and data analysis; it comes down to understanding your purpose and acting in alignment with your vision. The organizational adoption of a mission and vision statement ranges from a deeply rooted effort of the company to put something together at the local print shop that now hangs in the lobby.

The Mission Statement is a clear and succinct representation of the enterprise's purpose for existence. This is the reason the organization exists in the first place. Although the mission statement is the cornerstone management literature so many organizations continue without giving it [the statement] a moment’s thought. In the hay days of economic boom, companies were coming online by the hour. Almost no thought was given as to their purpose. They had a widget and they had a market to sell it in – and they were off. Sadly these organizations, who could not explain their purpose, have fallen prey to the storm.

Whether the Mission Statement is displayed throughout the organization or is something discussed at the coffee station, it defines the culture of the organization. What is more interesting; some organizations may have more than one Mission Statement, the one on display and the one that drives management directives. It is the unpublished statement that is more in alignment with behavior and therefore becomes the compasss for the organization.

It is actions more so than the gold inlayed plaque that determines the fate of the company. Many years ago I happened to meet the president of a company whose mission statement, proudly professed, “We are here to have fun, and make money.” As the statement professed, the company was predominately about a fun upbeat positive environment and secondarily about producing goods for their niche customer base. However, after a decade of ‘fun’, competition came from over the horizon and the company was depredated.

Conversely, a southeastern United States service organization which I had the pleasure of working with, proudly has their mission statement framed throughout their building. There is hardly a corridor in their offices that does display their Mission Statement. However, I don’t believe anyone in the company is able to repeat their statement much less follow its premise. The reason, the actions of their president, George, continues to act contrary to their mission. George’s every action resound with ‘Our goal is to make the numbers we need to satisfy our shareholders’. With that mantra, the organization slashed staff, and instituted a deep furlough policy. Currently, the company continues to hobble along, with most of the staff disconnected from their roles.

I feel, knowing your organizational purpose [Mission] and keeping it as the foundation of your every action solidifies your place in the market place. Keeping your mission as one to ‘serve’ a certain need in the marketplace keeps the organization focused on the basis of business. With the organization’s identity solidified, the plan for the future is paramount, the plan – the Vision.

I have found that small to medium sized organizations give almost no time to the Vision Statement. Without a goal or vision as to what we are working toward, how do we know when we have achieved success? For many organizations success may be year-over-year increase in sales of X% or simply making budget and getting our distribution. What ever the ‘vision’, more often than not, if the Mission is in place, the organization will achieve their vision. In an upcoming contribution, I will share some radical thought on how there is really no limit to organizational success and the correct framing of the Vision Statement is the first step.

The Vision Statement, when acted under the pretense of the Mission Statement will take the organization down its charted path. Organizations can also have more than one Vision Statement, the one proudly displaced in the boardroom and the other is the product of management actions. Either way, the result is the same, vision leads to action which leads to results/expectations. From my endeavors, I am amazed how tight this correlation is. Kathryn, the president of a small consumer products company, openly professes her company’s vision during board of directors meetings as ‘we are changing the world, one [expletive] at a time.” What I found so ironic is, Kathryn constantly complains about her market and customer base; probably because they are seeking the wrong customers?

Recently I had the opportunity of meeting Wendy, the president of a small consulting company in Glendale, California. Wendy’s dedication to her clients and her vision was the clearest and strongest I have experienced in a very long time. As I congratulated her on her strong business acumen, she shared something very profound with me. Her organization has a staff of less than 20 people; everyone knows, and embraces the organization’s mission as well as the board’s vision and can explain their part in the puzzle. What I found most amazing, beside the plaques of the Mission Statement, and Vision Statement was a plaque with the following:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

For Wendy, it is important that every person in her organization constantly manages their thoughts to continue to be in alignment with the Mission.

Over the years the power of a ‘serving’ Mission Statement and a solid Vision Statement continues to be enforced as the very foundation of a good organization. Without a solid foundation and hope for a goal in the future, all of the analytical technology available will not make a difference. Maybe it is time for organizations to return to their foundation.