“To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of suddenly growing rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.” – Benjamin Franklin’s “Plan of Conduct,” written at age 20.
How frequently do you actually encounter Mission Creep? Unfortunately I think we see it so often that it has become hard to discern when mission creep happens and when strategic change happens. Because to the casual observer or customer change happens and it isn’t always clear why.
A quick search on Google of mission creep produced this definition (Google didn’t cite their source, so I’m siting them) “Mission Creep: a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment.” Firstly yes, I see that it says “military campaign,” but mission creep is also applied to terminology around issues that businesses and organizations face. The definition still works the same to identify the shift in objectives during the course of the life of the business.
Examples of mission creep? How about McDonalds serving a McRib? What about Dell computer making a MP3 player? Starbucks buying Seattle’s Best Coffee? A local nonprofit adding another program, or another event, to raise funding? Not all of these are mission creep, at least in my mind it depends on how you think of the core mission of those organizations and the end results of the effort. Starbucks :: Seattle’s best = a chance to control a core competitor and expand brand; all of which sounds like a strategic plan to me. Dell computer :: MP3 player = attempting to compete in a market that was not part of the core mission and vision of the organization; that seems to be mission creep for sure.
Mission creep is derived by a loss of understanding and focus of the organization’s core mission. What is your core mission? Does it in any way resemble this amazing song and video from Weird Al Yankovic?
Mission statements in organizations tend to be complex, with quippy catch phrases and trigger words popular at the time of the statements penning. But do they really do your organization any good that way? No matter the size or operation of your organization, a clear and precise mission statement is a must.
Let’s consider the quote above from a young Benjamin Franklin. ‘To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of suddenly growing rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.” His quote is not a mission statement in itself, but his quote identifies the need and desire that one should be of focused mind and determination to an end result that will come with “industry and patience.”
And I challenge that all of that comes down to a strong and precise mission statement or purpose statement. That tangible and dynamic statement should be the summation of all that your work will accomplish. When on the day you are finished, you look back and see that you have completed your work because you were always moving closer to accomplishing your mission. There should be no question by board, managers, investors, or customers as to why you open your business everyday and what you plan to accomplish each business cycle.
To have mission creep is to be distracted from the core of the reason of why you even began in the first place. It will begin harmlessly at first as a good idea to boost revenue, to remain relevant to your customer base, to acquire new customers…but somewhere along the line it will become like Crystal Clear Pepsi…similar to the original yet remarkably different.
Even a great song by Van Halen couldn’t bring the product inline with Pepsi’s core market and mission. Okay, I’m digressing down memory lane here…and rocking out to Van Halen…back to mission creep.
Are you experiencing Mission Creep in your organization? Here’s an easy way to find out: Ask yourself why and how at least once every time a new opportunity, idea, or project comes up. How will this help us better reach our mission? Why would we want to invest time, energy, and assets into this?
Benjamin Franklin understood this rather well in this writing it seems, “…and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of suddenly growing rich…” Mission creep will come on slowly, so slowly that it will actually seem startlingly fast by the time it is identified. To help keep from going down that path you should always question what you’re about to embark on and keep that missions statement front of mind. If you can’t remember your mission statement off the top of your head then rework it. Own it through and through. If for no other reason, your customers will be glad you did.