The IT team in most organisations is critical to long-term success. It houses critical data, drives the analytical capabilities of other departments and plays a crucial role in the communication network of the company. Yet time and again it faces the challenge of budget reductions in a manner that seems both short-sighted and unfair.
Often, the biggest challenge IT departments face during budget reviews is proving their value to their company’s bottom line. One novel and underused technique for doing this is for IT to prove that it is vital to the success of the organisation’s mission. Yet mission statements are a paradox: they are the most popular management tool of the past 25 years and yet they are often the least respected.
Chances are your company has one — framed nicely in the lobby, perhaps — but can you recite it? Word for word? Can everyone in your IT department? If not, how can you defend your budget and your department’s role within the company?
You may be tempted to dismiss your firm’s mission statement as corporate window dressing with little relevance to your day to day business life. But do so at your peril. More than two decades of studying business success and failure has taught me that every company, regardless of size, needs to have a formally written statement of its mission.
But not all mission statements are created equal. A good mission statement should identify your organisation’s unique and enduring “reason for being”. It should make it clear to employees at all levels what the firm is trying to accomplish and why customers would want to do business with you. And, a great mission statement will guide the day to day actions and decisions of everyone in the company and result in a more focused allocation of valuable time and resources.
All my research indicates that mission statements can make a positive difference to an organisation’s bottom line results, provided they are designed and implemented properly. Chief information officers should consider building a departmental mission statement — one that unmistakably aligns with their corporate one. Unfortunately, you may not feel comfortable leading such an important undertaking simply because it is not one of your core competencies.
Great leaders, however, never hesitate to get help when they need it. Perhaps considering the following four guidelines will assist you. Be warned, though. If you fail to follow any of them, you are probably missing out on some of the advantages that a mission statement can bring your department.
Involve a cross-section of employees
A corporate mission’s successful implementation depends on buy-in from both formal and informal leaders in the organisation. A common employee criticism heard repeatedly is “It’s not my mission. I wasn’t included in creating it and neither were any of my peers.”
Input from a wide variety of sources should be solicited, considered and incorporated into the final document. If your department is small enough, involve everyone.
Focus on your customers and employees
My research shows that the most effective mission statements clearly and succinctly zero in on what the firm or department strives to do for both its external and internal customers, and its staff.
Beware of making the mission statement too long, with too many priorities. Beware also of statements that are too short, as they won’t provide enough guidance. Although there’s no absolute rule about length, many good ones run 60 to 80 words.
Make it known to all employees
If you currently have a mission statement, try writing it out right now. Then ask a veteran IT staff member and a new employee to do the same thing. Familiarity is the first step in any mission statement’s successful implementation. Once you build the IT department’s mission statement, make sure that everyone knows about it.
Make it part of your daily life
How often do you refer to your company or department mission statement in meetings? To what extent are mangers asked to relate their plans and budgets to it? Does your mission statement form the basis from which training, recruitment, promotion, reward and disciplinary programmes are developed? Do you systematically evaluate your progress against the mission?
If the answer to the last question is “no”, I can assure you that IT is missing out on a major opportunity to prove its worth by helping to make the corporate mission really matter. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. I therefore challenge you to build an IT department mission statement or revisit your current one.
Chris Bart is professor of strategy and governance, DeGroote School of Business, at Canada’s McMaster University and president of Corporate Missions, Ontario, Canada.