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We recently had a survey and many employees within our company gave feedback on not being connected to the overall mission and roadmap of our organization. I am part of a team that is trying to see ways to improve this and thus reaching out in this forum to see perspectives and inputs.

How can an Individual Contributor feel more connected to the overall organization mission?

Challenges: Usually the management holds meetings that discusses their vision, but often ICs at lower levels cannot connect the dots from their work to the overall mission. Newsletters are usually lengthy and people don’t have time to read through them.

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    I think it would really help to know more about your organization, particularly size and structure. – Malisbad Aug 25 '20 at 23:07
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    How does the overall mission and development impact employees in a day to day basis? Does the mission create a task in addition to their usual workload? If yes, does this task benefit them in some way or does it make no impact and seem like a chore? – user120854 Aug 26 '20 at 2:21
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    If it’s a surprise that no one cares about the “mission statement” that management worked “so hard” to come up with, wait until you hear what they think of the company values. Most staff don’t and never will. Instead of trying to make them drink the kool-aid, try evaluating them on their ability to perform their jobs. – prieber Aug 26 '20 at 3:39
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    Did you ask your actual workforce why they're not connected and what you can do to improve that? Not talking to the people who are actually doing the work and instead consulting experts and managers and consultants to try and figure out what they're doing is usually WHY people are disconnected. – Erik Aug 27 '20 at 8:44
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    Did the individual contributors get a vote in deciding what content would be in the mission and road map? Were they consulted in some other meaningful way while the mission and road map were being drafted? If not, why on Earth would you expect them to feel connected and inspired? – Daniel Hatton Aug 28 '20 at 17:12
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From my experience I can think of several reasons why they might not care.

  • it has no relevance to them. They didn't get any input in to the vision. They don't get any benefit if the mission is a 'success' or not. Maybe the managers get big stock bonuses, and the employees get a free T-shirt.

  • the vision has no impact on their day to day work. Managers might be continually be making decisions where the mission has relevance, but that doesn't mean everyone does. I've worked on projects where my role was to do a series of arbitrary, unrelated tasks. When that is your job, it doesn't matter ones bit what the vision is.

  • their experience runs counter to the vision/ mission. I've fixed some bug, or done some work that helps towards completion of the project. And someone higher up the decision chain decides it shouldn't be used (sometimes despite being the person who asked for it to be done in the first place). Now there may even be good reasons for this, but that just means that the big picture mission doesn't translate down to what the workers are actually doing. Don't expect people to care about the mission statement if their frustrating day to day experience can run directly counter to that mission statement.

If you want people to care about the mission statement, it needs to be consistent with their daily experience, relevant to their daily experience, and have meaningful reward for them if they focus on the mission.

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    I would put your third bullet to number one and then bold it in huge font. – Dean MacGregor Aug 28 '20 at 15:22
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Many people think that when a company gets a mission statement, that's where it starts going downhill. I haven't worked for companies with mission statements for a few years.

My attitude is that I want to work in a good environment, that I put pride into producing quality work; being a software developer, that my end users are happy with what my colleagues and I produce, and that the customers (which are not the end users) get what they are paying for. I expect our sales team to grab as much money as possible from the customers, so the company can afford to pay good wages, and I wouldn't care one bit about any mission statements.

Why would you want me to be more connected to the "overall organisation mission"?

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  • You mentioned several things that are important to you. Wouldn't it be much easier to work with someone who felt the same way about those things? And much harder to work with those who felt those weren't important at all? – buckminst Aug 27 '20 at 8:51
  • hmm depending on what kind of 'connection' OP is looking for, emotional vs. just seeing a connection to their daily work, there might be a difference between a regular company and an NGO. I've asked a clarification question in that regard, but as a improvement suggestion, maybe make it clear that you're concerned with regular companies, because I could totally understand the head of a 'save the world by killing kittens' NGO wonder why their underpaid semi-voluntary staff doesn't feel connected to their mission and whether they should change it to "save the world by feeding kittens". – Frank Hopkins Aug 27 '20 at 11:25
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    You've stated your own mission statement there. Does that mean that you are going downhill? – DJClayworth Aug 27 '20 at 15:20
  • @DJClayworth: those aren’t personal mission statements, those are desirable attributes of a good job. Consider the grab money part, that is really just there to enable pay good wages. He would probably be willing to work for a government office as long as the pay was good, or for a company that made less profit as long as more of it was spent on his job. – jmoreno Aug 31 '20 at 9:24
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...often ICs at lower levels cannot connect the dots from their work to the overall mission.

Do the managers understand how their direct reports' work ties to the overall mission? If not, that should be fixed first but I'm assuming they do since your concern is with ICs. I think this is something that could be clarified during goal setting discussions. For example,

Burger King's Mission Statement:

...“offer reasonably priced quality food, served quickly, in attractive, clean surroundings.”

If we were to imagine a meeting between a restaurant employee and their manager, it shouldn't be hard to connect a goal like "reducing the amount of time a customer is in the drive-thru" to the company mission of serving food quickly.

This should help employees understand why their work matters to the company. It may also help individual employees advocate for themselves when it comes to raises and promotions if they know how to explain how their own performance helped the company advance towards its own goals.

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  • It is difficult to connect people emotionally with the company like Burger King. If you have a statement like "Feed the Poor", the mission and the connection would be clear. But the motivation to sell generic food to generic people is much harder to create. Many companies struggle with this as soon as their product does not solve a real problem in a unique way. Some will ask you: "What would be the impact if the whole company did not exist? Then people would just go to one of the other three fast food stores." It needs more change in the org than just a little mission to motivate the people – 0x30 Aug 27 '20 at 18:05
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    @0x30 Oh sure. I intentionally didn't address the "inspired by" part of the question because it's hard to address without knowing what type of mission it is. I think it's possible to emotionally connect with a mission without it being a non-profit organization (products and services related to health and/or safety, for example) but I really only felt equipped to address the "they can't connect their work to the mission" part of the question. – BSMP Aug 27 '20 at 18:22
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The mission statement is supposed to define the company to its employees and customers and distinguish the company from competitors. Does your mission statement do that? There are many mission statement resources online; the first one I came across is this one which I think is solid.

Before even considering the ICs I would take another look at the mission statement and do some quick sanity checks:

  • Can this mission statement be used by one of your competitors? If yes, it's no good. Write a new one.
  • Can this mission statement be used by a company with similar culture in a totally different industry? If yes, rewrite.
  • If you gave someone who didn't know your company only your mission statement and asked them to broadly describe what your company is doing, would they get your industry right? Would they be in the ballpark of your main product? Would they get some of the cultural characteristics of your company right? If not, send the mission statement back to the drawing board.

A mission statement shouldn't simply be announced by the execs. It should come from the company overall and embody the entire company. If the entire company was not (representatively) involved in drafting the mission statement, start over.

Your company's mission statement is, hopefully, something that motivates your company's employees to work every day. But I think you have the cause and effect reversed - assuming you generally have motivated employees, you should research what it is that motivates them, why your employees work for your company and not some other company, and put that into the mission statement rather than coming up with the statement in a vacuum and then trying to get people motivated and inspired by it.

Exception to the above: if you are pivoting, maybe your mission statement has nothing to do with what the company is currently doing. But then you shouldn't be surprised if some or most of your employees aren't excited by it - they may have joined the company they interviewed for and not necessarily the company that the execs decided to create last night/this week/etc. In this case, again, I would examine whether the employees are actually aligned with the new goals of the organization before focusing on the mission statement itself.

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Do you have procedures in place that differ with the mission statement?

Do you have employee metrics that are unrelated to the mission?

Do you have contradictory metrics?

Do you, at a high level, lead by example or do you say one thing and do another while trying to keep it a secret from everyone?

Ultimately the problem in your company isn't going to be unearthed with the generic question you've asked but in my experience these are some questions you should ask yourself. Personally, I find mission statements, core values, and all those other terms to be pretty cliche and make me roll my eyes whenever I'm being talked to about them.

For me, just tell me the job at a high level without sugar coating it. If I worked for Google or Facebook that means the job would be to make money from selling ads. It wouldn't be to connect the world or whatever their outward raison d'être claims to be.

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Why it matters

It isn't obvious to everyone why a mission is important. But companies that understand why they are expending the effort have clear advantages. Let's assume that you are a company that creates products that help the disabled live more independently, and your mission is

to allow everyone to live as free and full a life as they desire.

Benefits of having your employees on board with your mission:

  • Inspired employees and teams overcome obstacles and meet deadlines better

    Consider

    We need to finish this project before the convention. We could get a lot of sales if we can demo there.

    versus

    We need to finish this project before the convention. Think of all the people who will be there whose lives we could change!

  • Employees can make more decisions independently when they have guidelines to work from

  • People will converge and agree with decisions easier when they align with the mission

    Option A would be fast and easy, but Option B would better help our customers

  • Employees feel fulfilled by the work they do

What to do

Knowing why your mission is important, how do you get everyone on board?

1. Use your mission in the hiring process
Along with meeting the technical and interpersonal skills, how well do your candidates fit with your mission? Do they feel inspired, passionate and excited when you discuss it with them? The easiest way to get employees to connect with your mission is to hire the ones who don't need your help doing so.

2. Overcommunicate your mission
It sounds like the only way you talk to your employees about you vision is through a newsletter which is largely ignored. If that's the case, of course it isn't important to your employees because it isn't important to the management. Your mission should come up everywhere. Meetings which are purely about mechanics of the job communicate that the mechanisms are most important. Meetings that state how project X or feature Y aligns with the mission "connect the dots" for them. When you do this enough, employees will start to do it, too.

Of course, for any of this to work...

3. Your mission must be worth talking about Is your statement inspiring or boring? Specific or vague? Is it a worthy cause? Of course employees will be uninspired by boring missions, and fail to understand how their tasks relate to an ethereal statement ("Make the world a better place"). Ensure that your mission is something meaningful, and not a exercise meant to check a box.

Good luck, I wish you the best, and hope that your company finds some magic.

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