What's your mission?

Mission.  It is one of the stark differences between smaller companies and start-ups and many of the major companies in today’s education space and something that more established companies are having to come to grips with.  Not long along I attended a meeting of an established company that was struggling to change from print to digital.   The meeting started with the CEO asking “What is our mission?”  The executives at the table each answered the same way--“our mission is to make our revenue goal for this year.”  And last week we saw another major company begin a campaign to change their perception, their mission, from COMPREHENSIVE PUBLISHER to DIGITAL EDUCATION AND LEARNING SCIENCE COMPANY.   Both of these companies, and hundreds of others, are in need of clarifying their mission in this changing environment.  They are finding out the hard way that mission is more than a group of words carefully crafted at the hands of a branding company: a strong mission both defines the work and binds a team together around a common purpose that makes each member of the team feel equally integral to, and accountable for, success.  

Think about when you last heard of a small/new firm spending time—or money in the form of bringing in external consultants—formulating a (revised) mission statement.  At every major company I have worked with, there have been no shortages of meetings and money devoted to creating mission statements.   By contrast, smaller firms and startups naturally have this mission in their DNA.  It is the reason they were formed.  It is the attraction that draws new employees and investors to what is by definition an unstable (and often risky) proposition.  It is the glue that binds them together.  It is easy for them to tell their story and easy for customers to understand it.

Good missions are specific and easily communicated.  

“We want to help high school students to better assess the true cost of attending the colleges that best match their qualifications, needs, and expectations.”

“We want to make it as easy as possible for instructors to assign open educational resources in order to reduce the costs for their students.”

“We want to help teachers build instructional technology competencies so they can choose the best software and tools to deliver student outcomes.”

These statements tell a much clearer story than the more general statements that are often the product of a corporate bureaucracy trying to put an appealing spin on the underlying mission.  And, more importantly, they mean something to everyone in the company; not just the marketing team. 

Regardless of the size of your organization, its longevity, or your team/division within it, it is worth asking yourself what your mission is today. 

  • Is it clear?

  • Does it actively drive all or at least most of your day-to-day activity? 

  • If you ask others on your team and across the organization, would they respond similarly? 

While experience proves it is possible to be a good and profitable company without such clear and actionable missions, the truly great companies—and even more so, the startups that go on to be established success stories—have a shared sense of their mission that permeates all that they do.