Mission and Meaning

Extraordinary organizations may make great products, offer seamless service, create a good work environment, or all of these. This isn’t random. It happens when people execute, in concert.

At the symphony, hundreds of employees behave in a way that is beautiful and predictable. Predictability is key. An audience that signs up to hear a Beethoven symphony knows what it should sound like.

Execution starts with a common understanding. An orchestra creates beautiful music: mission.

The conductor leads from a score: organizational goals. Players in each section have their own parts, represented by lines in the conductor’s score: individual and team objectives.

Your company’s mission is what your people believe and behave. From the CEO to the most junior clerical employee.

In large firms, mission statements may come from consultants, ad agencies, HR or recruiting – or even your own senior leaders. Smaller organizations may or may not have formal mission statements.

In any organization, mission comes alive when leaders understand it, articulate it, and behave accordingly.

This provides context, and allows people to see how their work fits into the bigger picture, even when they play a role that isn’t obvious to the outside observer. (The orchestra surely has a librarian, a CFO, and someone who coordinates travel.)

If you recruit players to make beautiful music, and your conductor fails to come to the podium, hands out sheet music to random symphonies, or asks a bass player to pinch-hit on percussion – creating beautiful music is elusive, at best.

A top symphony’s concertmaster can describe his role in a meaningful narrative form. Managers develop narratives for their teams, stories that direct people: what they do, how they fit, and why you’re all here, doing this work together.

Managers integrate people, mission, and goals using a firm’s performance management process, just like a conductor directs an orchestra with a score.

This is how we create meaning at work.

RBC’s Trading Floor by ralvin, used under Creative Commons License.  Trolling flickr for a photo of an orchestra, I noticed that in some photos, orchestras resembled trading floors!   Exactly.

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