‘Brevity is the Soul of Wit’ and Maybe Mission?

Posted by Jeff Lucas

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Eric Hellweg of Editor of HBR.org is attending the PopTech Conference in Camden, Maine and has a great blog post about a session by Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation.   Starr applies Polonius’s prescription to the mission statements of the socially-conscious businesses that Mulago looks to fund.  In fact, he requires that they be no more than eight words in length and follow this formula:  verb + target + outcome.  Hellweg relates some examples provided which include:  “Save endangered species from extinction” and “Improve African children’s health.”

Now these may not be as elegant as some of those six-word memoirs that continue to be popular (I digress, but I continue to be amazed at what great stuff people come up with in this format on an almost daily basis.  Two recent ones:  “Photographic memory; running out of film” and “Like Beer, like brownies, hate diabetes”).  But I am guessing that they will provide your workforce with a clearer picture of what you want them to focus on and be more likely to be remembered than those that sound like they were created by Dilbert’s automatic mission statement generator.  For example, our challenge is to assertively network economically sound methods of empowerment so that we continually negotiate performance-based infrastructures.

So, can you get your organization’s mission down to eight meaningful and compelling words?  I’ll give ours a try.  Baldrige:  “Improving US organizations’ performance.”  We usually add in competitiveness because it is in our establishing legislation, but I think our current definition of performance probably covers that too.  What might yours look like?

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About Barbara Fischer

NIST Baldrige
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14 Responses to ‘Brevity is the Soul of Wit’ and Maybe Mission?

  1. Gini says:

    Every guest is delighted because of ME.

  2. Jeff Lucas says:

    Like it Gini. Have to respect taking personal responsibility.

  3. Tom Wolfgram says:

    Deliver 100% Early Reading Skills – Ringing Advantages

  4. Barry Johnson says:

    1. The Mulago Foundation article reads like a good site visit strategy for assessing NFP applicants.
    2. Jeff, is BPEP’s mission to “improve US organizations’ performance” or is it to “provide a process that improves US organizations’ performance”? (Still 8 words if you don’t quibble over US.

  5. Richard Leider in his book “The Power of Purpose” talks about getting purpose down to two words. His? “Discovering Callings”
    Mine, which has since become my company’s mission…”Advancing Excellence.”

  6. Bryan Zak says:

    Alaska: “Liked Sarah, not the Tea-Party”

  7. Bryan Zak says:

    Alaska Adventure Cabins: “Bringing adventure to Yours”

  8. Jeff Lucas says:

    Barry
    Good point of the Baldrige mission. We don’t directly do the hard work on the ground. But, is it too passive? What if we provide the process, but then don’t make a compelling enough case to get anyone to use it?

  9. Jerry Salkowe says:

    How about “Pursuit of Excellence”? The word “pursuit” sounds a bit more energized and may be more effective in fulfilling the marketing aspects of a Mission statement. It also shows up frequently in Baldrige related communications.

  10. Lisa Muller says:

    The piece of the Jenks Public Schools mission statement that captures the essential nature of our work is, “Preparing all learners for productive, responsible citizenship.”

  11. Jeff Lucas says:

    Posting on behalf of Larry Potterfield, Midway USA
    Respectfully, I disagree with the entire concept of ‘brevity to the extreme’ in a Mission Statement, and believe it is in direct conflict with Baldrige teaching.
    First of all, Baldrige asks, in the profile, for applicants to state their Purpose, Vision, Values and Mission. Since the Baldrige criteria is based on modern leadership and management principles – as validated by the majority of the great management gurus of the last 50 years, then one might logically conclude that a Mission Statement would include all four of those terms.
    Baldrige goes on to define each term in the glossary.
    Certainly the primary purpose of a Mission Statement is to communicate to all stakeholders. Yes, it should be clear and concise, but it is easy to make it so concise that is is not clear.
    The Mission Statement at MidwayUSA includes our Vision, Mission, Purpose and Values, and you can view it by copying and pasteing this link into your browser: http://media.midwayusa.com/midwayusa/StaticPages/pdf/Information/Mission_Statement_033110.pdf
    In my opinion, the Vision Statement is the most important of the four statements that comprise our Mission Statement. We put it first. Our Vision Statement is 21 words long.
    It is unfortunate that no two humans can yet agree on what a Mission Statement should consist of. Even though the term Mission Statement isn’t mentioned in the Baldrige Criteria, the very best recommendation I have ever seen comes from Baldrige. One of our first projects when we started our Journey was to re-create our Mission Statement, bringing it into alignment with the Baldrige Criteria. As most of you know, this is excrutiating work. Today I believe that if there was a national debate on Mission Statements, one could argue that Baldrige has the best recommendations and that the MidwayUSA Mission Statement embodies those recommendations.
    Our Mission Statement is posted in large format in 30 different locations throughout our facilities.
    Jeff, I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Mr. Starr, but frankly I don’t know why his opinion on Mission Statements would be of value to anyone. It’s like a celebrity endorsement of a political candidate.
    Go Baldrige!
    Thanks Larry

  12. Phoenix Fire Department…
    Be Nice,
    Survive,
    Prevent Harm.
    Alan V. Brunicini, Fire Chief

  13. Jeff Lucas says:

    Alan
    Like this a lot.
    Thanks for sharing

  14. Gary Whitcomb says:

    After reading the posting and then some of the comments, I noted the title of the posting was:”Brevity is the Soul of Wit” and Maybe Mission? Note the question mark! Short-long-or six words, it is foundation of what drives any company.
    I make this comment because I was once an ISO Quality Systems auditor. When going into companies and asking employees what the Mission Statement of the company was, I watched them pull out a card and read it. In Baldridge, as I understand it, Intergration is highest form of understanding and demonstrating a mission statement or vision statement. I feel it is best understood when presented in an understandable way and then incorporated into the every day work life of said employees.

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