This section deliberately focuses on how to identify and agree your mission statement and not on who should be involved in this process. Questions regarding who should be involved and how it should be coordinated represents a different set of challenges entirely and are broadly the same regardless of whether forming your mission statement, vision statement or values. As a result this guidance is included at the end of this stage and is designed to encompass all three.
Before getting embroiled in the details of precise wording and phrasing your most important task is to have successfully identified the major elements by which you wish to define your institution’s raison d’être. Examples of what we mean by an ‘element’ include such things as ‘international reputation for research’, ‘leading edge facilities’ or ‘excellence in vocational training’. They represent the nub of what you feel represents the best of your institution and what it strives to achieve.
During this process it may help to ask yourselves the following questions:
- What are the first 5 words that spring to mind when asked to describe your institution?
- What is it that you do best?
- What makes you different?
- What would you like others to think of you?
The next stage in the process is likely to be one of shortlisting, only possible if accompanied by a considerable degree of discussion, compromise and trial and error. It should be fairly easy to move from the original long list to a shortlist of real contenders, simply by discarding those elements which received only very limited support, or which are only slight variations on others. Moving from a shortlist to the final number of agreed elements may prove a trickier proposition, not least because they may all be worthy entrants which, if length were no issue, would all be included.
Here is where a process of prioritisation may prove useful. Ranking each element in terms of its perceived importance to the institution serves two purposes: Firstly, it makes it possible to define a cut-off point, beyond which otherwise worthy elements will not make the final cut (ie ‘we are only going to include the top 4 elements that we have listed’, for example). Secondly, it starts to give some shape to the statement itself by dictating the logical order in which each element should be described, with logic dictating what you consider to be the most important element coming first.
From here on in it’s a question of phrasing, reviewing and rephrasing until you are happy with the end result. In many respects the process of defining the final wording of your mission statement is akin to writing poetry, with no word wasted or included without good reason, plus a similar need for the text to scan and flow as smoothly as possible. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to end up with a series of worthy, but disjointed and unconnected statements where, instead, what we are looking for is for the sum of the whole to be greater than its parts.
It is also worth paying particular attention to the range of adjectives used throughout the statement to ensure that you have not inadvertently slipped into unjustifiable hyperbole: are all your facilities really ‘world class’? Do you really have an ‘international reputation’ for research? etc. Focusing instead on what you believe to be most important to your institution, rather than simply repeating or trying to better well-worn generic claims should help in this regard. As ever, it is advisable to avoid jargon and to use plain English and short sentences wherever possible to ensure that your message is not weakened or lost.
As the above guidance implies, it is our view that the mission statement should be an accurate summary and reflection of the institution and what it strives to achieve as it is. Where it strives to be in the future is something which should be defined in its vision – as described in future sections. However, it may be that in certain exceptional circumstances – for example following the granting of university status or other such major changes – that it is necessary to also take a more future-focused approach to defining your new mission statement and perhaps looking to some of the goals identified during the formation of that vision to help craft a mission statement that describes how you see the new mission of the institution going forward, rather than simply reflecting the past you have left behind. Such complexities help remind us that individual circumstance and operational necessity may often require a more pragmatic and less clear-cut approach than it is possible for us to describe in this guidance.
Although crafted with longevity in mind it is also important to periodically review your mission statements to check that they are still current and valid. This may be particularly relevant after the kind of major organisational change mentioned above, but may also be required simply due to the passage of time and the gradual impact of change. A scheduled review process, perhaps annually or every few years can help ensure its continued relevance, always starting with an assessment of the statement as it currently stands and whether each element is still accurate and helpful. If there are aspects of it which should be removed or altered following the rest of the guidance in this section should help you to identify what they can most usefully be replaced with.