Personally, and in every organization of which I am a part, I ask three questions. The answers frame my participation.
The first question is: “Why am I ‘here’ (and why am I committed to this organization)?”
The second question is: “What will I do, and when, and where and (most important), what will I accomplish by what I do? (What will be changed; what will be better, safer, more beautiful?)”
The third question is: “How will I do my work, how will I relate to others, and how is my work limited?”
For both individuals and organizations wanting to be intentional, it is essential to answer these three questions consciously and deliberately, and then to wear the answers ‘on the sleeve’, with statements that are as simple as possible and as complex as necessary to be very clear and, hopefully, unique. This is essential for a number of reasons:
1. the answer to the “Why” question inspires us, individually and organizationally. A failure to align the individual’s answer to the “Why” question with the organization’s answer to the same question leads to low or soft or misdirected loyalty, weak inspiration (and even weaker motivation), messages and actions that are unaligned or in conflict, and mediocre performance.
2. the answer to the “What accomplishment, When, Where” question provides focus on strengths, priorities; justifies saying ‘no’; and, provides the basis for the measurement of qualitative results.
3. the answer to the “How” question frames the moral aspect of our work, certainly in terms of relationships and stewardship. It makes our values and prohibitions tangible. It encourages individual initiative in the context of right relationships.
There are a number of labels used to describe the various answers to these three questions, including: purpose statement, mission statement, values statement, mandate statement, mantra… There is no generally accepted correspondence of label to definition: the correspondence tends to be context and community specific, which is fine if two conditions are met. First, every community must know the importance of answering the underlying questions, and must explicitly assign clear meaning to each label and ensure that as the make-up of the community changes (with new people coming in), the meaning of each label continues to be held in common. Second, every community should ensure that the ‘basket’ of statements they use answer the three questions, regardless of how the statements are labelled. (It is often the case that organizations focus more on the semantic meaning of the label than they do on the content of the statement.)
Neither as individuals nor as organizations can there be consistently effective work and good outcomes without clarity in the answers to all three questions.