An excellent question came my way last week from a delegate on the Pg Dip Entrepreneurship course at Cambridge University's Judge Business School . 

How is StoryFORMs different than Mission & Vision?

This post aims to explain that mission, vision and value statements typically don't arise from an exploratory process like StoryFORMing. Also they  typically don't enable as  wide a range of activities as StoryFORMs.

Defining Mission, Vision & Values effectively

There is no doubt that at times of change, a Mission and Vision activity can be useful.

The post here by Connecticut-based leadership consultant Jesse Lyn Stoner offers practical, sensible steps to formulate a mission statement. Here is Stoner's Step 3 of 5:

Consider what you offer from your customer's viewpoint

It is vital.

Stoner has collaborated with The One-Minute Manager best-selling author Ken Blanchard on a book, Full Steam Ahead about vision in work and life. Like Jack's Notebook by my KILN partner Gregg Fraley, Full Steam Ahead uses story. 

As the video promo makes plain, vision and values are linked.


These are useful resources for businesses in established markets doing usual things. But they won't meet every business's needs, throughout its lifecycle.

Will a M&V&V statement meet your needs?

Ask yourself these 9 questions: 

  1. Can we tell a story - to any audience - off the back of our mission and vision and vision (M&V&V) statement?  
  2. In our M&V&V statement, do we recognise ourselves?
  3. Do others recognise us, when they read our M&V&V?
  4. Does our M&V&V statement differentiate us: from our competitors? The other companies we worked for?  
  5. Are we articulating our key assumptions about how the world works, or is changing?
  6. Using our M&V&V, are we able to enrol customers, users, suppliers, partners and others in our business? If not, do we know where the gaps in understanding or belief lie? 
  7. Beyond stating what we aim to achieve, does our M&V&V make clear what we're committed to? 
  8. Besides staff induction and annual reports, does anyone ever look at our M&V&V statements?
  9. Is there a gap between the mission & vision & values we've committed to, and the world as it is? Do we know how to describe that gap? Are we innovating in that space?


The quizzes in the magazines in my dentist's waiting room always provide legends: 

If you replied NO to 4 or more questions, then [scary activity] immediately

I don't know what the right number of No's is exactly.

But in my own businesses, if even one of those questions gets a No, I know there's more work to do. 

How about you? Would you invest more time? Or just let it ride? Just make do?

How M&V&V got a bad rap

I don't know the history (although I should). But I'm guessing these are the drivers that have made Mission & Vision & Values exercises what they are, and limited their impact.

  1. Top-downism
    This is what happens when the few (usually at HQ) dictate to the many (often in business units with a clear mandate to go forth and prosper by whatever means).

    Top-down approaches often obscure the cool and useful ways local markets or verticals have adapted a company's core approach to meet the real needs it encounters.
  2.  Sideways and superfluous 
    This is what happens when M&V&V processes (usually renewal) are driven by Communications heads who are sidelined from meaningful strategy discussions. 
  3.  Disconnected from commercial reality
    This is what happens (often) when M&V&V illuminate nothing about what value is exchanged between a company and its customers. Attributes that should be the "price of entry" -- like integrity in an accounting firm, quality or precision in a manufacturing firm -- are all too often held up as distinctive. 
  4.  Disconnected from organisational reality
    For example: All those CEOs who say: we stand for "innovation" and then don't invest in R&D. 

Beneath all this is the reality that all too often in 21st century business, words are not respected. That's why, as a commercial storyteller, I've stopped putting all my trust and efforts into words. Instead, I now focus on meaning.  I'm interested in what makes sense.

Words are a devalued currency

In his book Unmanaging: Opening up the organisation to its own unspoken knowledge, McKinsey veteran Theodore Taptikilis tells an entertaining story about a mission statement.

It's 1980. McKinsey and other management consultancies (and, in their wake, branding and PR agencies) have yet to promulgate the new product line: the Mission, Vision and Value statements firms of all sizes commissioned. 

“My favourite experience was at the 1980 London office Christmas party. The worldwide partners had just met in a two-week retreat to hammer out the wording of a new ‘founding document’: the Firm’s Aims and Goals. 
A copy of this blue-bound Magna Carta appeared on our desks a week or two before the party. In that year, we had some talented musicians in the office; accordingly, the Aims and Goals, word for word, became the lyrics for a delightful pastiche Handel four-part harmony setting. As part of the Christmas party entertainment, a group of us donned choir robes and performed the piece, a cappella, without explanation and with completely straight faces. We earned loud and spontaneous applause.
The most senior partner in the office, recently returned from the collegial retreat, approached me with an expression of huge delight across his face. ‘I loved the song,’ he said to me. ‘But tell me: where do you get those great words?’” 

When we don't recognise ourselves, are we really equipped to form the identities of others? 

Do actions speak louder than words?

I like Taptikilis's story. It tickles me. To be honest, it feels like something out of a sassy American sitcom. Setting a mission statement to music and rendering it as a four-part harmony is a lovely pastiche. 

But music alone won't give a mission statement personality or uniqueness.

If you doubt this, check out this number by comic band Axis of Awesomeness. Here, they illustrate how the same four chords appear time and again in an array of pop songs. (Please, let's not misconstrue these chord bundles as "universal" when they are merely "conventional".) I'm suggesting there's a strong parallel here between pop music and the equally narrow vocabulary of most business M&V&V statements.


Just like in the music medley, when you set most values statements side by side, the same words recur. To readers and listeners, they're often drained of meaning. So much for distinctiveness.

But there's another problem. And that's the one that arises when what we need to do in our roles is at odds with the stated values; or irrelevant to the purported mission.  

Again, a musical comedian epitomises this. It's Tim Minchin, with his song F Sharp.

It's not easy to sing in a different key to the instrumentation. But somehow, workers and leaders manage it every day. Because simply having a M&V&V doesn't mean you're aligned with it. Simply having one doesn't mean anything. 

Over to you, Tim:

BBC PROMS 2011 from the Royal Albert Hall, London featuring averick Australian comedian Tim Minchin  joined by pianist Danny Drive and conductor Andrew Litton.

When you compare your firm's M&V&V statement with your (or colleagues') attitudes and behaviours: do you see signs that (to quote Minchin's lyrics) you're "playing in F Major and singing in F Sharp"

A space to reflect, experiment and affirm

Rather than a carefully evolved, hygienic set of words that reality defies or contradicts, StoryFORMs offers people a space to: 

  • think about what their business does, and the difference that does or could make
  • dredge into awareness the assumptions that underpin "who we are", "what we do" and what "it matters" 
  • notice when the elements of our identity or vision don't make sense

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