Organizations need to have whats and whys. Whether they are government agencies such as police or fire departments, labor unions, nonprofits, or commercial businesses, the people who work at and are in charge of these endeavors need to know what they are there to accomplish. A common way to do this is by establishing a mission statement.
A mission statement is a short message that lays out what your organization does, who or what it serves, its goals, and how it plans to reach those goals. It helps all members of an organization move in the same direction. A good mission statement should give everyone a sense of the organization's purpose and how they contribute to it.
Another increasingly popular tool that organizations are using is a vision statement. While a mission statement says what you want to be now, a vision statement says where you want to go in the future. Vision statements often form the basis of long-term strategic plans. In addition, they help to attract and motivate like-minded people who will be excited to accomplish a challenging far-off task.
Mission and vision statements are excellent tools for giving your organization and members direction and purpose. They're strong legs to stand on. But how do we measure if they're doing what we want them to do?
In a commercial endeavor, success is measured by the bottom line. Are you profitable? Are you beating your competitors? Are your customers coming back again and again? If your answers are "yes," that's an easy-to-understand feedback loop that shows that you're probably on a good path with your mission and vision statements.
But goal attainment is more challenging to measure in the government or nonprofit realms or in a labor organization, which exists to serve its members. Those endeavors require public support (i.e., tax dollars), donations, or dues to keep them moving forward. And while it's great to have a mission statement, that mission statement is just what you want to be or what you say you are. Your vision statement is even less concrete.
Nowadays, these are just two legs of a three-legged stool.
Some of your goals can be backed up with narratives or data, but to whom are you delivering that information? Why would people care? You need to know if the sources of your resources are going to want to keep supporting you.
You need to understand what your brand is. Your brand is what your stakeholders think you are. Your brand is the third leg of the stool.
Who are your stakeholders? They can be your mayor or elected officials, your community's residents and businesses (the taxpayers!), your donors, or your members. Your fire department or police department could have the greatest mission statement on earth and maybe even some data to back that up, but if the people in your community don't think they are safe, good luck maintaining public support! Likewise, your labor organization can be working hard to support its mission. But, if your members think they are getting poor value for their dues, you will have a hard time keeping people involved!
How do you understand what your stakeholders think of your brand? Ask them! And I don't mean just monitoring comments on Facebook or thinking that by not fielding regular complaints, you're doing a great job.
Trust me when I say that virtually nobody out there is thinking about you. Most residents don't spend a lot of time worrying about their local cops and firefighters. Likewise, most union members aren't thinking about their locals all that much.
So you need to get out there and speak to them. You need to elicit feedback. You need to engage. You need to tell your stakeholders your story. You need to show them - constantly - that they're getting value for what they're investing in.
This process is called branding. Just like delivering on the promise of your mission statement takes constant work, so does telling the story of that work.
The good news is that if you're living up to your mission and vision statements, you should have a lot of stories to tell. Your people are doing a lot of great things. However, the stories of these great things need to be turned into content, and strategies need to be developed to get that content in front of your stakeholders.
These days, anyone can create content, but it takes work to do well. You're competing for people's attention. And you're not competing against other organizations like your own. You're competing with the big boys. Things like TV, Netflix, video games, social media influencers, or other digital platforms that you may have yet to hear of.
You'll need help doing this. But there's a good chance you have a lot of talent in your organization. Your youngest members might not be able to turn a wrench the way previous generations did, but some are probably wizards with keyboards and digital devices.
And I can guarantee that the folks competing for the resources you need also have similar talent at their disposal. So whether there are other departments in your city government, nonprofits looking for donors, or non-labor-friendly political action groups, there will be people trying to tell their story better than you are.
To get things done in your organization, you need to know who and what you are and where you are going. But you also need to make sure everyone else knows that too.
A stool needs at least three legs to stand. Have only one or two, and you're not going to have a very stable platform. The same thing can be said for your organization. You need to figure out where you are and where you're going and constantly ensure those things align with your stakeholders' expectations. Mission. Vision. Brand.
Just like a two-legged stool, your organization won't be very stable if you don't have all three of these legs in place.
Jim Aleski is a 25-year fire service veteran and career engine company Lieutenant in the Philadelphia metro area. Jim serves as a Branding and Content Specialist at NEP Services and formerly served as the Communications/Social Media Director for the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ), the state affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Prior to becoming a career firefighter, Jim responded as a volunteer while working for more than a decade as a media producer. Jim was involved in the production of hundreds of national TV commercials, network branding campaigns, music videos, and corporate communication projects. Jim holds a BS in Mass Communications from Emerson College and earned a MS in Fire and Emergency Management Administration from Oklahoma State University.