Is it strategic or tactical? Is it a goal or an outcome? Pardon my cynicism for a moment; I may have read one too many business improvement articles recently, and my capacity to absorb even more terms is exhausted. I know these words do have specific meanings, and I’m sure there are plenty of academics and consultants who have them well defined and assembled into a perfect system. They just don’t match with one another, hence my confusion and cynicism.
We’ve been experimenting with a simpler way of talking about strategy at Interstates, and I’m appreciating the simplicity. It is a version of mission clarity, and it is as simple as asking two questions: what and why? Every task, every assignment, every initiative, every project, and every program can be better understood when we are clear on what is to be done and why it is important.
The breakthrough idea for me is that those two questions can clarify things at any level in an organization. Whether you are an executive leading an entire organization through a culture change or you are an accountant developing a new report, knowing what is to be done and why it is important greatly improves the likelihood of success.
The terms we encounter to describe various levels of mission may be confusing. Whether it’s a strategy, an initiative, or a mission, asking what and why can help us make better decisions. Each of us, at whatever level we serve as leaders, can benefit from a clear understanding of what we are to do and why it is important. As we delegate, we need to share that context with our teams so that their decisions can be guided by a broader understanding of how their mission fits into the bigger picture.
Sir Christopher Wren, the great English architect, walked unrecognized among those building St. Paul’s Cathedral. He asked three different stonemasons, “What are you doing?” The first said, “I’m cutting stone.” The second replied, “I’m earning five shillings, two pence a day.” And the third answered, “I’m helping Christopher Wren build this beautiful cathedral.”
Perhaps the only difference among the three was that the third stonemason was more fulfilled because he understood his contribution. For twenty-first century leaders, mission clarity is about more than just feeling fulfilled. It is the key to leading well. Sadly, there is a chance we’ve made it too complex. Understanding what and why is helping me see it much more clearly.
David Krahling, Vice President