Vision, Mission, Strategy and tactics for a team

Introduction

Understanding this web of relationships between Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics was the one of the most complicated things I learned as a manager. Most of the understanding was after I started working as a manager. I came across the concepts one at a time with non-overlapping contexts and that made it difficult to connect them together. Hence this article is an effort to write a few words for folks going through a similar situation. Each of these concepts is worthy of a book, so I will be lucky if I can break the ice for the reader. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

Mission statement and the vision

A mission statement should be thought of as the what of an organization — its strategic objective, its tactical goals, and its subsequent action plans put in play to achieve its objectives.[1]

Vision, on the other hand, is how you like to hear about the team, say 2 or 4 years later.[2] So vision is reflection from the future ideal version of your team. Like that press release, which gets written in amazon teams, on the day-1 even before any product development starts.

Mission statement is part of the whole ‘Vision’ package, because where you want to be matters as much as how you want to get there.

A well defined purpose, the mission statement, should have three properties at the least

  1. The mission statement should help you identify the quantitative objectives that you want to achieve
  2. It should point to projects that you should take on and the projects that you shouldn’t.
  3. It should be the one sentence that you can tell to your prospective hire (and team members) as to why they should work for the team.

An example of mission statement from PayPal

“To build the web’s most convenient, secure, cost-effective payment solution.”

A Vision statement is more common at the company level (more abstract) and mission statement is preferred at the team or organization level. You can have both of them, but as long as you are not forcing yourself.

A vision for the organization could also be a list of bullets stating what the success will look like.

Example of a vision statement of Amazon

“To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”

The vision document could include vision statements, mission statements and equally important the values you want to exhibit while running the company. Some methodology V2MOM [3] formalizes this process but it adds more binding requirements which could get daunting or confusing to the audience.

The strategy

A strategy is like a string to the kite. Restraining and yet helping the kite fly.

At its heart, strategy means to identify the alternatives decisions a company or team can take, while solving the problems that it is/will face and then stack rank those.

“Strategizing” requires you to be comprehensive in the alternatives of the problems faced along the path of achieving the objectives of the team, within the constraints of the company values and ethos.

Ranking makes sense only when the options are mutually exclusive, and identifying them as such may be non-obvious.

E.g. a modern music distribution company like Spotify could choose to prioritize ‘total number of customers’ over ‘revenue per customer’ as perhaps targeted by Tidal.

In this example, let's assume that lossless music transmission in real time is a costly affair. Then whoever wants to offer that will have to bear more cost and incur more operational cost. Now to recoup these operational costs the subscription fees have to be higher, which in turn will further limit the percentage of population that would be willing to pay for the subscription.

Now you can have two strategies:

  1. Revenue per user over total number of subscriptions
  2. Total subscription over revenue per user.

During the company operations, when you have to make decisions in the future (Should I increase the music quality even more?) the strategy should help you in decision making, and that is the sole purpose of strategy.

So in a nutshell, it’s not a strategy if you decide to choose all the good things. Ruthless prioritization starts with strategy.

Activity: Find an example of competing companies which have gone with two different priorities.

Raison d’être of the team

Every team serves a purpose within the context of the Organization and the organization serves part of the company’s purpose of existence. Often this purpose is not articulated (vision/mission statement) and more often it is not properly communicated. If your company has a vision statement, then do a favor, by getting a large board engraved with those words, and post it in the most visible area for the team. Or at least some zoom background with the content.

Existence of a reason for the team that is known to all team members makes the biggest shift from renter to owner mindset. Every single project and every single member, should be able to connect their work to the objective in the mission statement or to a priority item from the strategy.

With enough communication of the mission statement and vision, you will build a team with members who get the letter and spirit of what you are saying. When the time comes they will be ready to expand on it and if required tweak it when the world and company would have changed.

Team Artifact

All this discussion is good, but it is real only when this is captured in a document that can be shared with the team, and all the stakeholders.

Infodeck or long form document, choose your style, but having a single document that captures

  1. Mission statement and vision
  2. Values
  3. Strategic priorities
  4. Tactical focus

is an absolute must.

Ideally this document also gets revisited, revised, and shared with the team every year.

The existence of a coherent inclusive document, even if of lower quality, is infinitely more important than not having that document. Just having this document will provide perhaps 80% of the value.

References

  1. ‘Leadership in Action: A New Lens on Mission and Vision’ by Robert A Goldberg
  2. Begin with the end in mind — — Franklin Covey
  3. Create Strategic Company Alignment With a V2MOM — Marc Benioff

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