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Ever sat in an organisation wondering about the nicely framed values and mission statements on the walls.  Welcome to “The ten thousand and six words problem”.

Just about every organisation has them, on their walls, in their corporate brochures and on their website.  You may well have been in organisations when the mission or values statements are unveiled.  You may well have joined an organisation that already had them.

Have you ever wondered how they got there?  Have you wondered how they were developed?  Have you ever wondered what they mean?

Let me introduce you to the “Ten thousand and six words problem”.

Origins of the “Ten thousand and six word problem”

How are these vision, mission, purpose and strategy statements developed?

I have been privy to many of these discussions about organisational values and their mission statements.  They take many forms.  In many cases the management team have decided they needed a new mission statement or their  organisational values need re-stating.  Sometimes they will take some time to develop them.  Other times a Chief Executive will declare what they are.  Most often they the team will develop them through a series of meetings or workshops.  They will have long discussions and debates about the purpose of the organisation, what is important and what they want to be.

After a while, and good deal of discussion, they will have boiled down their thoughts to about 6 words.  It might be 8 or 10 words.  It does not matter. In essence the mission is stated in a succinct (and hopefully memorable) way. organisational The values are stated as either short phrases or perhaps a word supported by a short sentence.

It is these short statements that are cast in stone, framed and placed on the walls.  They are told to their staff.  They are repeated endlessly.  They are cast in stone, not to be questioned.  They are just the six words (or so).

The boiling down process

These mission statement and organisational values are the essence of a discussion.   They have been boiled down.  (Even being asked to boil it down to a one pager:  See You can’t swim in sea salt).   They are the result of long discussions, thoughts, arguments, positioning, thinking through alternatives, drafting and re-drafting.   They will have debated where they have come from as an organisation, where they want to be and what they represent. They might even looked at other organisations for inspiration.  They will certainly have done some soul searching.

The management team will have had at least a 1000 word discussion about the phrases.  More likely they have had a 10,000 word discussion about them.

And this is the problem…

YOU HAVE NOT!

  • You have not been privy to those discussions.
  • You did not have time to consider them.
  • You did not discuss them with your colleagues, look at the organisation, explore the options.
  • You were not privy to the nuances and subtleties that went into the wording.
  • You did not have the 10,000 word discussion.  You did not even have the 1000 word discussion.  You have the six words.

Without the 10,000 words (or at least a hundred or so) you have to mind-read what they mean!  Good luck.

What are the implications for Executives and managers?

The implication for managers of the ten thousand and six word problem is this.  You have to communicate the debate and discussion as well.  You have to help people have that discussion for themselves.  You have to get the thoughts, principles, ideology, thinking and beliefs that support these statements into peoples’ bones, into their hearts, into their minds.

This means you have to share many of the ten thousand words with people.  You have to explain your thinking behind them and what they mean.

Otherwise you just have something that was developed amongst consenting adults in private.  In essence, Jargon.  It will only become meaningful when the conversations are had by the organisation.

So get out there, have those conversations.   And if you need help developing the mission or values, having a rich debate or socialising the strategy and thinking through the organisation, then give me a call.