October 12, 2012

Facilitation Friday #39: Passionate About Purpose


Passing through O'Hare Airport recently, I stopped at Argo Tea for a hot beverage and noticed this company statement.

It immediately made me think of the mind-numbing wordsmithing exercises that so many mission or vision sessions devolve into for some reason.  Well actually, not some reason, but one reason:  as facilitators we allow participants to focus too much on whether "promote" or "advance" is the right verb.  Instead our job is to ensure they are passionate about the purpose they are articulating, regardless of what verb starts off the statement.

I'm not sure crafting passion statements versus mission statements is better, but we definitely should only design and facilitate sessions that help discover the mission and visions that evoke powerful passion.  To me, a well-crafted mission or vision statement plants a flag that people want to rally around and does so in the most clear and concise language possible.

What I like about this statement is it puts passion front and center: this is what matters to us.  Doing so offers a magnet for those prospective employees, customers, investors, and partners who are like-minded and find this passion attractive.  And if you don't care about this same commitment? Then this might not be the place for you, a nice upfront discriminator.  A well-crafted mission or vision will simply attract those who care and believe similarly.  It will confirm for them that "yes, this is the place for me."

Argo's statement then offers some insight into how this passion is operationalized in the way the company does its business without using obfuscating or generic language and with out diving into too much detail.  The language suggests that they have specific tactics and usable metrics to assess how they act on the various commitments they articulate.

To help clarify passion when facilitating a mission or vision statement session, I find it useful to draw on three techniques:

1.  Polling people to assess their level of enthusiasm for (and commitment to) the draft statement:  On a scale of 1-10 ...  I usually have people verbalize their votes, but they could note a rating privately on notecards if anonymity is important.  Capture/post all the responses and then facilitate a conversation about the range of reactions and if the passion and commitment levels are sufficient.  If they aren't, invite people with lower scores to share what they would need to feel better about the statement.  Help make appropriate revisions and then reassess reactions.

2.  When people begin to focus too much on a particular word choice option, I ask if the current word choice captures the spirit of what they find meaningful.  If so, I invite them to work with others offline to explore the merits of modifying any particular word.  This keeps the conversation moving forward as opposed to letting it stall in what often amount to a debate between personal preferences for certain words.

3.  The Five Why test advocated by many sources.  When we have a draft mission or vision statement, I then ask the group "Why is this important?  Why does this matter?" five times, drilling deeper each time.  It often is in the responses to the 3rd, 4th, or 5th probe that the deeper meaning and the more powerful language appears.

What other approaches have you found helpful in developing mission and visions statements that are concise, meaningful, and that will evoke purposeful action?

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