Matt's Articles

Making the mission actionable

This month I will continue to share my thoughts on making a mission statement actionable. Most of my experience in this space comes from the work that I did at Motorola using a method called, “Jumpstart.” I believe that Motorola built upon methods used at GE to focus their Six Sigma program. I have also borrowed from the Toyota method called, Hoshin Kanri,” If you haven’t heard of this, I suggest reading the book, “Getting the Right Things Done” by Pascal Dennis. It’s a quick read with very practical guidance.

As I explained last month this is a starting point for continuous improvement. As a Continuous Improvement (CI) practitioner you will need to get leadership aligned on this before you can press forward. The approach I take focuses on the words used in the organization’s mission statement. Words mean different things to each person. By starting the discussion here, the leaders can align themselves on the meaning. Once we have homed in on the words that best represent the mission, the focus is placed on creating measures based on these words. This will provide evidence that the organization is realizing the mission. With this method we move from a nice sounding statement, to alignment with the meaning of key words, then to specific measures. Finally, we put targets on these measures taking a significant step forward to something actionable. 

The targets provide focus at the top of the organization. The next step is to drill down and identify the next level of activities that will drive the organization to achieve the targets. I typically use a Tree Diagram for this purpose. You can see the basic construct below:


To get to something actionable we need to go down a couple levels from the top mission driven targets. In the Tree Diagram we can drill the targets down to the functional departments of the organization or business processes then link them with specific initiatives. We refer to these as “Vital X” projects. This requires a working session where departments talk through their own initiatives and the alignment of those initiatives. We can then determine if the initiatives are still relevant given what the team has learned about the mission and targets. This creates robust discussion about roles within departments, overlaps, gaps, and the need for greater performance. The activity requires a great deal of facilitation to make sure that all voices in the room are heard and that no one dominates the conversation, including the leader. Through honest discussion of the current initiatives leaders will eliminate activities that are unaligned reinforcing the activities that are aligned. This is a powerful outcome because eliminating initiatives can be the hardest decision for leaders.

The final phase of the approach takes all that has been learned and summarizes it into a plan for 6, 12, or 18 months. The plan often requires the creation of new metrics, kick off of initiatives, closure of other initiatives, agreement of ownership, and ongoing governance. It takes a fair amount of facilitation to get to this point, but as a CI practitioner the real work starts here. There are so many different issues that can send an organization off track. The methods used to drive the initiatives, the transparency to quickly identify obstacles, and addressing conflict between departments early is what determines ultimate success. For now though, you will know that you are working on the right things.

Next month I will provide my experience driving the initiatives.