Vail Daily column: Taking it ‘off the wall’ |

Vail Daily column: Taking it ‘off the wall’

Ross Iverson
Valley Voices

A mission statement should serve as a filter for decisions, a tool to prioritize goals and, in many cases, communicate to stakeholder groups what aspects of the culture are most important.

What would happen if you took your organization’s mission statement off the wall?

Each year, organizations invest millions in off-site retreats, consultants and employee time to develop the ultimate crafty lingo that will soon become a mission statement. Shortly after this investment, those words typically end up on a wall.

Quickly, the group that created those words may leave the organization, and usually new staff members are added who had nothing to do with these crafty words. The dilemma for the leadership team is to figure out ways to preserve the intent of the mission statement through change.

In leadership training after leadership training I have participated in, it is baffling how few people (even those who crafted the words) can recite or remember the mission statement. The reason, the retreat or planning session typically ends before the application training, due to a lack of time or budget.

The application can be very challenging. Management teams that bear the intense pressure of competing priorities don’t always embrace the idealism that occurs during an off-site retreat.

What is a leader to do? There doesn’t seem to be a perfect solution. Maybe it is time to stop trying to fix the problem of making the mission come alive, and instead, take the mission off the wall.

This idea came up during a recent session with Lorenzo Patelli, an associate professor at the Daniels School of Business at the University of Denver, when he was teaching a class at the Vail Centre about critical success factors. The difference between a critical success factor and the end results are quite different.

Most organizations set revenue as the target factor, but revenue measures the past. A more logical factor may be to measure the number of phone calls a call center makes in a day, or the number of absenteeisms to determine if the level of activity will achieve the goal.

In the same vein, fulfilling a mission statement is the outcome, and the critical success factors leading up to this determination may be quite different. I wonder if reverse engineering the process would give leaders a stronger sense of what their true mission statement is.

What if you took the mission off the wall for a year, and when the year was over, took a retreat and wrote the mission statement based on how the organization actually acted, performed, prioritized and was known for by the customer. The statement would no longer be aspirations on a wall, but would be a reflection of what the leaders are supporting, implementing and upholding.

As the Vail Valley wrestles with issues for the future, the mission statement discussions will start to occur as a way to filter priorities. Mission statements are often used with the same ease as the we need to protect the taxpayer statements that are flung around as a barrier to progress.

As a community, taking the mission statement off the wall for the next year will be telling if we are charged with re-writing these statements a year from now on our actual culture.

Ross Iverson is the CEO of the Vail Centre, a nonprofit organization that exists to provide learning experiences to those responsible for inspiring the communities of the future. For more information, go to

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