Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?

If your firm has crafted its mission statement, can you say it without reading it? Most people in firms that have a mission statement do not know what it is without reading it. Wow. Are mission statements worthless then? No they are not and we will discuss mission statements in the context of the more general question – “Can You Say What Your Firm’s Strategy Is?”

In my experience succinctly saying your firm’s mission and strategy is more difficult than one would think. What is your firm’s strategy to begin with? Your firm’s Vision or Mission or Values or Purpose? How about your approach to competition? Are you a low cost provider or a differentiator? What about just describing your current products and services as your strategy? Or what about your marketing messages, logo, themes, tag lines, and positioning as your firm’s strategy?

You should be able to describe your firm’s strategy succinctly and clearly to a host of “stakeholders” – your employees, customers, bankers, shareholders, etc. After all if you cannot simply state your firm’s strategy to these groups, how can or why should anyone rally behind it?

Here’s what has worked for me when helping firms with these challenges:
Let’s say a firm wants to embrace developing and articulating its strategy for the first time or wants to improve an earlier attempt that went nowhere. One of the hottest topics now in the strategy discussion forums is does a firm start with its Vision, Mission, Values and Purpose or with a formulation of a comprehensive strategy framework? My experience repeatedly has demonstrated your firm should start with a comprehensive strategy framework and then develop Vision, Mission, Value and Purpose statements only when appropriate.

Why? Let me give you a vivid example that is in hindsight humorous. In 1990 I was asked to lead a strategic planning retreat with the top management team and board of the largest employer at the time in Oklahoma City. I copied on a piece of paper this firm’s Mission Statement but also included the Mission statements of their three leading competitors. However I left off the company names. I asked everyone in the room to pick their mission statement. Only one person out of twenty-five in the room could actually pick theirs!!

As I asked above, are Mission Statements worthless? They are not if crafted well and at the right time. Most mission statements are way too long and as such end up sounding generic and no one can remember them.

Here is a way to proceed:

Formulate a comprehensive strategy framework first –

I like the phrase strategy framework rather than just strategy. Let’s face it, in today’s world we need a level of detail in our strategy efforts.

A good example of a comprehensive strategy framework is found in Roger Martin and AG Lafley’s great new book titled Playing to Win. AG Lafley is the former Chairman and CEO of P&G. They suggest these five cascading and iterative questions as the centerpiece of your strategy framework:

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
  2. Where will we play?
  3. How will we win?
  4. What capabilities must be in place?
  5. What management processes and systems are required?

Now with the strategic framework crafted and agreed to by all, craft short and memorable Vision, Mission, Values and Purpose statements based on the strategy framework. No long dissertations that cause confusion!!

Here are my definitions of Vision, Mission, Values and Purpose with some examples:

  1. Vision – what we aspire to reach and achieve, but probably never completely can. For example Disney’s Vision is “That every child gets to meet Mickey Mouse”. Think about all that could be included in this vision statement. And who can forget it?
  2. Mission – what we aspire to dominate within a specified period of time. A hypothetical mission for McDonalds could be “Our mission is to dominate value meal breakfast, lunch and dinner globally by 2020”. Putting a time frame around a mission statement is key.
  3. Values – what we aspire to believe in and how we behave daily. Go to General Electric’s website and read their values statement. It reflects the strategy framework and as such the values have real “teeth”. No platitudes!! One of my client’s Values statement was “We are a team of people who say what we mean, mean what we say and deliver what we promise”.
  4. Purpose – a statement of what makes the work of the firm and strategy framework noble. IKEA’s purpose is “A better everyday life for the many”. Founder Ingvard Kamprad’s and IKEA’s purpose is to serve people with limited financial means.

This approach works for most for-profit firms in setting out a strategy framework with consistent short and memorable vision, mission, values and purpose statements. How does or will your firm approach this work if it wants to?


Bill Bigler is Director of MBA Programs and associate professor of strategy at LSU Shreveport. He spent twenty-five years in the strategy consulting industry before returning to academia full time at LSUS. He is involved with several global professional strategy organizations and can be reached at and