A clear vision: the role of mission statements in supporting success

A Business School’s mission statement can be the golden thread sewn throughout the narrative of an accreditation report, says Tania Easton, former Head of Accreditation and Standards at Kingston Business School. But clarity in a statement’s wording is essential if its message is to be conveyed effectively

When we know what we want to achieve but need the support of others to be successful, communicating with clarity is critical. In delivering their strategy, Business School leaders need internal and external stakeholder engagement, and communicating a clear vision can support success.

Setting out on your mission

A vision and mission statement is an open communication for many businesses, and for Business Schools it is also a statement against which it is measured by accreditation bodies.

Central to accredited Business Schools are principles of research and corporate engagement, and the creation of a learning environment that is both theoretical and practice-based to prepare students for their chosen career. An important question for leadership teams scoping or revising their School’s mission statement is how to individualise this statement when their core offer is largely the same as that of their competitors. Where are the areas of distinctiveness for the statement? Using Simon Sinek’s Start with Why approach, we can look for clarity with answers to questions such as:

  • Why your organisation exists beyond the basic product that competitors also sell? For example, is it strongly linked to supporting a specific regional need or industry?
  • Why do staff choose to apply for a role at the School, or choose to stay working at the School?
  • Why do students choose to attend this School instead of another?

Questions such as these can begin to outline the current mission delivery of the School, regardless of how this may be described in a mission statement. If what is actually happening isn’t aligned with the ‘why’ of your long-term strategic intention, then your strategic plan will be difficult to deliver successfully.

When scoping or revising a vision and mission statement you can challenge your wording with questions such as:

  • Does your mission statement explain your specific mission clearly, or is it too generic and, in fact, would suit many other Business Schools? 
  • Does it ‘set out your stall’ and inform your stakeholders?
  • Does the wording support your colleagues to engage with delivering the mission, actively and consciously?
  • Does the statement create distinct themes for marketing and communications campaigns?
  • Is there enough clarity to allow you to evidence success?

To test a current mission statement and strategic focus, we can also ask if we embed the themes throughout all work, or whether it is lip service in some areas: do we ‘walk the talk’, and do our marketing colleagues tell the same tale to external stakeholders? Are strengths and innovations of the School clearly associated with words that create distinct hooks against which to hang descriptions of mission impact, and are those strengths and innovations being purposefully led?

Engaging others in your plan

A mission statement can be simple, but its audience can be complex in engagement and understanding. This means the creation of the statement can also be complex, as we look to define the words that pinpoint the reason for activities.

We can assume that people want to understand our plan, and so we seek clarity with the words we choose, so that we can communicate our message well. A challenge with this is that we need simple ‘layman’s terms’, but without over-simplifying and disengaging experts or undermining our intention. Those in academia understand this challenge, as they may explain new insights or knowledge differently to peers and students.

A mission statement can be reviewed by the advisory board, or even a critical friend with a fresh pair of eyes, for feedback on clarity. What an author intended and what can be inferred are sometimes different, and feedback on unintended potential for misunderstanding is helpful in our international, multilingual, and multicultural community. 

To create impact in any form of communication, we need to consider:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What do we want those people to hear?
  • What do we want those people to do?

Stakeholders will want to know why the Business School has a certain strategy and mission statement, and what it means for them and their engagement with the School. Faculty and staff, for example, will want to know what they are expected to do to support the success of achieving the mission and any related goals, which may bring them a deeper sense of purpose at work. Your critical friend can check that you have explained with clarity, so that you can get buy-in more easily.

Evidencing your success

A vision and mission statement is informed by the central strategy. Consequently, showing how you are delivering on your mission will need to sit within the strategic plan. Doing this well requires clarity on the strategic objectives. How will you be measuring your success, and with which overarching goals do those strategic objectives align? The vision and mission statement should reflect those goals, and the journey you’re taking to your chosen destination, but without stakeholders seeing all the associated activities.

Involving your marketing and communications team in understanding your strategic plan can help you evidence your mission. Stories and marketing assets can be written to be aligned and reinforce your message of success.

Evidencing your mission is also fundamental to accreditation reports. A clear vision and mission statement with words selected to support your evidencing will make reporting easier; these words and themes are the golden thread sewn throughout the narrative of your report. When there is a clear structural link between the strategic plan, measures of strategic activities, and a Business School’s vision, mission and values statement, then an accreditation report can become a more integrated part of strategic reporting processes, and the clarity (and success) of your strategy is evident.

Tania Easton is an independent consultant on strategy, communication, accreditation and their associated operations. She was formerly Head of Accreditation and Standards at Kingston Business School, London. During this time, she was Co-Chair of the UK and Ireland Accreditation Group, the network of academic and professional accreditation leads.

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