Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - November 15, 2017

Mission? Vision?

In the consulting I do with banks and credit unions, I often deal with broad issues like credit policy or the organization's culture. Working at that level inevitably raises questions about how the leadership sees the institution, its goals, its standards, its approach to the daily business of credit and other financial services.

That often leads to a discussion of mission statements, core values, and related topics. And that's probably why a recent article by Jeffry Pilcher on the Financial Brand (more below) caught my eye.

Pilcher writes:

"Most banks and credit unions have defined a mission/vision statement and list their core values. Unfortunately, many of these are written so poorly that they don't help define the organization's culture, nor guide staff in any meaningful way."

He then goes on to point out common mistakes he sees in these statements, starting with the question of whether mission statements and vision statements are the same thing.

Pilcher suggests they should be different. He sees a mission statement as a description of how the institution is operating, how it currently practices. For him, a vision statement implies a look to the future, describing goals and ambitions that are yet to be fully achieved. As he observes -- and I would agree with him on this -- many institutions have both mission statements and vision statements, but it is hard to tell which is which. What is the point of having two statements if they do not serve different purposes? (And, of course, two statements are no better than one if neither of them registers with your front lines.)

Do you even need two statements? If your vision statement doesn't describe something that is different from where you are today, if it doesn't imply some kind of change, why bother?

In most institutions, the main value of mission and vision statements is to guide discussions and strategies among the institution's leadership, to shape thinking at the top levels. The people who are implementing those strategies with your customers would generally be hard pressed to recite your mission statement, and it certainly isn't a daily guide to front line practices in most situations.

At the customer interaction level, a "mantra," rather than a mission statement, might do the trick. Can you generate a phrase or short sentence that will truly help make practical decisions at the customer interaction level?

Think of your favorite fast-food chain. They probably have a lovely mission statement documented somewhere. But if their employees think "fresh, friendly, fast" every time a customer comes in, they'll probably have more success than they would trying to recall the corporate mission.

Could you boil the key elements of your mission statement, your vision statement, and your core values down to five words that would remind your staff of how you want them to do their work? "Remind" is the key in that question. A mantra isn't a replacement for other statements, but a readily available compass, as it were, to keep employees pointed in the right direction.

Creating an effective mantra is no easy task, but it is well worth the effort. And if you find it impossible to come up with a mantra that reflects mission and vision and values, perhaps those high-level statements need more work.