Matt's Articles

Act on Mission

To begin this series of monthly newsletters, I will explain the importance of organizational alignment with the mission. I am starting here because this is the best starting point for continuous improvement. Organizations often contact me looking to solve a problem with delivery, invoicing, or manufacturing processes, just to name a few. It is often the case that these are only symptoms of a larger problem. Mission alignment will likely require a couple newsletter issues to fully explain. For this issue, I will explain why I think it is so important.

 Every company has a mission. It is on their website. It is printed, framed, and hung on a wall in the lobby of their office. Employees see it every day. You read it and it sounds good. I find that they are typically satisfactory descriptions of the organization’s function and purpose. The really good ones give some insight into the organization’s values. Within the organization some employees understand and desire to apply the mission’s meaning. All of this is good; though, most employees don’t give the mission much thought. The challenge is, the meaning of the mission quickly dissolves in routine operations. It does not mean much to the technician servicing equipment, the operator turning a wrench, the analyst entering data, or possibly even the sales person visiting a customer. The leadership team did the work of creating a meaningful mission but stopped short of cascading that meaning into the daily work of the organization’s members.

 This problem presents itself through many organizational systems. Everything from functional department conflicts, unnecessary activities, unaligned roles and initiatives, appropriation of budgets, and at its worst, apathy from the employee base. These are often presented as a root problem when in reality, they are symptoms of a greater issue. The issue is a lack of alignment with the mission and clarity of purpose for each member in the organization. In short, a mission that has not been distilled into tangible daily activities is highly unlikely to achieve goals, resulting in disappointing performance.

 For the continuous improvement practitioner this means successful performance improvement starts with breaking down and understanding the mission. Then, cascading the meaning of the mission deep into the routine work of the organization. In practice, I find that this is a tough sell. There is a long path from the mission statement down to routine work of the transportation department, billing department, or machining team. Make no mistake, that is where the real work in realizing the mission occurs. Helping leaders understand this linkage is our first job. In my experience, the path to this understanding is not a straight line. In coming newsletters I will expand a bit on the approach that I take and what I have learned in this application