Mission Statement

``I love nature. I've shot just about everything you can shoot''

--Sue King, lifelong NRA member, qtd. in Mother Jones, February 2000

The trees will go away.
Nature is not globalised,
Nature is highly inefficient,
insufficiently modern,
and profitable
only when raped.
Nature is not neoliberal,
not democratic,
unconcerned with progress---
in short, not a capitalist.
Nature is a hippie,
A tree-hugger,
Maybe even a goddamned Red.
So we must kill her.

--Neil Moore (February 2000)

A statement issued, usually by a corporation, ostensibly explaining their mission--the ultimate goal and end of each action of each employee.

The problem with mission statements is that every corporation in the world (excepting incorporated charities and the like) has the same mission. I've often said that if I find a company with the mission statement "Our mission is to make a big pile of dough" that I would buy three of whatever they sell out of sheer admiration for their honesty.

Geeks, who would rather be writing code and drinking caffeine based drinks, often consider corporate mission statements to be uncool, no fun, and unnecessary. However, there is a place for mission statements. They tell the public what your company does, what service it performs, for whom, how it does its thing and perhaps even why.

What if you are asked to write one? Will you claim you don't know how, or are not willing? Will you just sling a bunch of words together, or use the Dogbert Random Mission Statement Generator? Well, here's the very brief overview of how mission statements are analysed using the Soft Systems Methodology.

SSM chooses to call the mission statement a 'root definition'. Before a root definition can be written, the essential ingredients are made evident by applying the acronym CATWOE. It stands for:

C - Customer - who is the beneficiary of the action?
A - Actors - who does the action?
T - Transformation - What happens? What is the action?
W - Weltanschauung - Worldview
O - Owner - Who 'owns' the action?
E - Environmental Factors - Other contextual information
Many of these criteria are self-explanatory. In any system, the customer, actors, transformation and owner are fairly obvious. Weltanschauung is the tricky one. It means the point of view from which the system is seen. Pseudo_Intellectual's writeup (Weltanschauung) is a worthwhile read. This worldview gives implicit information about the (often subjective) values which the owner/actors apply to the system. What is desirable? What is important? and so on.

Once the 6 criteria are found, it is fairly easy to form a sentence which contains them. The structure often given is:

A system owned by O to do W by A by means of T given the constraints of E in order to achieve X for C.

Of course, the order can easily be changed, depending on your needs. I have personally found O and E to be most frequently omitted in corporate mission statements. You might want to say:

a T system in which A do W for C.

Let's take a manufacturing company as an example (taken from Checkland, P. and Scholes, J(1990). 'Soft Systems Methodology in Action' Chichester, UK, Wiley & Sons):

C - People in the production function
A - Professional planners
T - Need for production plan met
W - Rational planning of production (is desirable and is a possibility; there is the degree of stability needed to make rational planning feasible)
O - The company as a whole
E - Staff and line roles; information availability
Resulting root definition = A professionally manned system in a manufacturing company which, in the light of market forecasts and raw material availability, makes detailed production plans for a defined period.

By applying CATWOE and forming a neat root definition, bizarrely long and difficult-to-follow mission statements can be avoided. However, it can also be fun to break a mission statement back into its CATWOE components. If I may take the mission statement quoted in the first writeup in this node...

"In educating women to excel, Meredith College fosters integrity, independence, scholarship, and personal growth. Grounded in liberal arts, we value freedom and openness in the pursuit of truth and, in keeping with our Christian heritage, seek to nurture justice and compassion. We strive to create a supportive and diverse community in which students learn from the past, prepare for the future, and grow in their understanding of self, others, and community"
The Customer is clearly stated. "women", while the Actor must be the college itself.

The main action is "educating". It also seems to be "creating a ... community ...". More Transformations are mentioned though. The college wants to "foster integrity, independence, scholarship and personal growth".They also "seek to nurture justice and compassion". Finally, the community they strive to create will indirectly result in yet more transformations... "students learn from the past, prepare for the future, and grow in their understanding of self, others, and community"

The Weltanschauung is stated too "we value freedom and openness in the pursuit of truth"
The Owner isn't explicitly mentioned, but two Environmental Factors are... "Grounded in liberal arts..." and "in keeping with our Christian heritage". Meredith College's mission statement conforms to the (important) CATWOE criteria, although I'd suggest that they got a bit carried away.

Now you know how to write a meaningful mission statement. Homework: Have fun with CATWOE in your own homes and offices! See if the corporate droids who wrote your company's mission statement were using this system! Get a promotion (or fired) by suggesting a better one to your boss!

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