How to Determine Your Mission

Posted: November 15, 2011 in Uncategorized
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When I’m working to help my clients identify and develop their mission as part of their strategy formulation, I often ask them to imagine what the world would be like if they didn’t exist as a company. It can be an unsettling question, not unlike what the main character goes through in the classic movie, A Wonderful Life. Call it the Wonderful Life question.

I have found that there are basically two possible answers to that question. Either the group answers that there wouldn’t be much different, or they answer that they have something unique to offer their clients. How they answer then frames the discussion of their mission. If they can’t really say much would be different, then they are interchangeable when any number of other companies. They probably offer commoditized and undifferentiated products and services. If they answer that they think they have something truly unique, then they are clearly differentiated from their competitors, or at least aspire to be so.

There is no correct or better answer to this question. Many companies have been widely successful by offering commoditized products. These success stories, such as Walmart, are focused relentlessly on offering uniform quality products and services at ever lower prices. They have to be masters at generating value from the “back end” of the business, that is, by ruthlessly rooting out waste and inefficiency so they can keep lowering their costs, and therefore their prices. Conversely, companies that truly believe they can make a difference in their customers’ lives tend to offer highly differentiated products and services. They can also be ruthless with costs, but this isn’t as critical, as they can demand higher prices in return for that differentiation and uniqueness. German auto makers such as Mercedes, BMW, and Audi are clearly differentiated producers. Apple also offers highly differentiated consumer electronics products, and prices them accordingly. This makes them wildly profitable and allows them to continually reinvest in new designs and category-busting products.

It’s interesting how asking that one simple existential question can generate a whole new way of viewing one’s business, mission, and strategy to achieve it.

© 2011 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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