query: mission statements

colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist-admin at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Thu Dec 21 21:23:40 CST 2000

[ed:  please copy COMM-ORG with your responses to Eric's query.  A quick 
note from me at the bottom.]

From: Eric Lerner <elerner at twcny.rr.com>

Hi everyone --

Can anyone recommend a book, article or website that offers critical
thinking on the subject of mission statements?  I've seen lots of
boosterism for mission statements, explaining how drafting a mission
statement should be a top priority for just about any organization.  It
will impress your funders, focus your programs, improve your staff morale,
and cure your rheumatism.  I agree there's often value in having a mission
statement.  But I've also heard and read what strikes me as a good deal of
inconsistency, exaggeration and wishful thinking as well.

For example, it's said that a mission statement is essential because an
organization's goals and programs should "flow out of it".  I'm not sure I
understand what it is for a goal or a program to "flow out of" a paragraph
of text.  I think it suggests, misleadingly, that an organization's goals
and programs are like theorems of a Euclidean geometry of the group, that
can be deduced somehow from the mission statement axioms.  There's a lot
more to human and group motivation than that.

Mission statements are often described as articulating the most fundamental
commitments of an organization.  In the next breath, they are described as
aptly phrased rhetorical soundbites with which to impress funders -- a
slogan for t-shirts and coffee mugs.  It's not clear to me that those two
purposes are always, or even usually, compatible.

It's often said, platitudinously, "if you don't know where you're going,
you'll never get there".  That seems to suppose that knowing where you're
going is equivalent to crafting and approving a concise paragraph
explaining where you're going in very abstract and general terms.  Is that
the only way for an organization to know where it's going?

Has anyone ever tried (in print) to separate the wheat from the rhetorical
chaff here?  Has anyone ever done empirical research on the actual
consequences of mission statements?

Thanks for any tips you can provide.


Eric Lerner
Community & Organizational Development
504 South Plain Street
Ithaca, NY  14850
(607) 273-1154

[ed:  it seems to me some of the training manual sites on the COMM-ORG 
"Training and Technical Assistance" page had some of this stuff, but I 
don't recall which ones.]

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