Leading people: The art of keeping things simple

Avoid jargon when writing your mission statements - just say what you mean.

What is it about the words vision and mission that turns people who, under normal circumstances, are perfectly capable of communicating clearly, into wannabe academics?

I cannot count the number of organisations that have proudly shown me their vision and mission documents, only for me to then spend several hours of intense study, often with a dictionary, translating the often incomprehensible language. And they then wonder why they don't appear to be achieving their missions and visions.

People confuse vision, mission and objectives. It's incredibly easy to get caught up in the semantics. Actually, it really doesn't matter what labels you use. All your organisation needs is three things.

First, it needs a clear idea of what the world would look like if your organisation achieved its dream. This is often called a vision. Second, it needs a specific long-term target that describes the next step towards realising that dream. This could be called a mission. And third, it needs some clearly identified activities that will help achieve the mission and the vision - in other words, strategic objectives.

Your vision should be an inspiring sentence that encourages people to picture a positive future. Examples might include "women ex-offenders leading positive lives" and "young carers with a life of their own". No measurements, no deadlines and no clever jargon.

The mission is a measurable statement of the achievement that you are aiming for. It might say "to have supported 500 women ex-offenders into work and homes before December 2009".

Objectives are the five or six high-level activities that will help to achieve the mission. They could include agreeing a housing plan with the local authority, designing a bi-monthly job skills programme or developing an outreach programme.

And for goodness sake, keep the language simple. People aren't inspired by statements such as "our vision is to achieve a coherent, economically vibrant community that minimises social exclusion". Say what you mean - and say it simply.

- Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change and a trustee of MedicAlert.

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