‘Mission drift’ is a common affliction in many organizations.
It usually starts at the top and trickles down as you lose the plot of the story you and your colleagues are collectively attempting to tell about what your organization exists to do.
In his episode of the Toughest Call podcast, Rob Angel, the creator of Pictionary, talks about how staying on mission resulted in him and his partners turning down a lucrative licensing deal.
They defined their mission as “scaling the energy and fun of Pictionary” and viewed the offer in front of them as unlikely to contribute to that focus.
Given the massive dollars involved and that he was assembling the games by hand in a tiny Seattle apartment at the time, it was not easy to walk away. Though Pictionary would ultimately sell tens of millions of copies around the globe, its commercial success was not a given at the time. When faced with difficult decisions, staying ‘on mission’ is often incredibly difficult in the moment.
Taking a cue from Rob, how can you help the others in your organization stay on mission as an organizational leader?
After reflecting on this question, I broke it down into a four-step process:
If you lead an organization, division, or initiative, you do not exist in isolation. You need to ensure that you approach the definition of your mission collaboratively.
Imposing a mission on your collaborators is simply ineffective. Without your team’s meaningful participation in your mission’s formulation, you won’t have their meaningful participation in its implementation.
Get into some serious and respectful Debate about what you exist to do.
After you have debated and reached a consensus around some loose language for your mission, you need to Define it clearly and concisely.
That means no lengthy statements that attempt to squeeze in everyone’s different thoughts and language. If you are approaching Define in this way, you did not reach a consensus with your team and need to go back to Debate.
A tightly worded mission can be easily remembered and therefore has the greatest chance of affecting day-to-day behavior. If it is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, it is at the forefront of their thinking and will guide how they make decisions.
Always go for clear over clever; this is not a marketing tagline.
Whether they were involved in the Debate and Define parts of the process or not, you need to Declare the mission to everyone who plays a role in bringing it to life.
If you have a larger team, beyond declaring the mission in written form, consider conducting a town hall where you reveal how it was debated and defined as well as the deeper meaning behind the words. What will be of most concern to those gathered is what direction you are implying about how they do their daily work. Take questions and provide specific examples of how the mission relates to “doing” within your organization.
If appropriate, you may also want to Declare your mission publicly on your website and social media platforms, so outside stakeholders understand what you are attempting to achieve.
Defend is the hardest part of the process as it is where you meet the challenge of “walking the talk”. The gap between words and action is where many organizations fall short. This results in being viewed as hypocritical by employees, which breaks their trust in leadership.
Rob and his team were defending their mission when they decided not to take the licensing deal they were presented by Milton Bradley. Though there were many aspects of the proposal that were fantastic and even generous, the Pictionary team could not accept that they would be giving up control of the way the game functioned. They saw this requirement as violating the mission that they had all agreed upon.
Defend is where the real tough calls happen.
Keeping your team “on mission” is no easy feat, but it is through this alignment that you are likely to maintain the highest engagement with your people and achieve the greatest success for your organization.
Rob Angel, the creator of Pictionary, talks about how staying on mission resulted in him and his partners turning down a lucrative licensing deal. Listen to Rob’s 30-minute podcast conversation with Strategist Chaz Thorne.
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