Take a “Time Out” to Create a Mission Statement

By Brian R. Lauzon, CFA, AdvisorAssist, LLC on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement. -W. Clement Stone

Have you ever been in the middle of a fever-pitched project when a team member stops everyone in their tracks by saying “Can we take a step back and confirm what we are working on here?”  I have always admired that person.  It’s not easy for someone to stall a team’s progress by calling a “time out” like this.  Sometimes it turns out that this person was the only one toiling away without a clear sense of purpose.  More often though, the need for clarity and direction goes well beyond the one person that calls it out.

Now, take this project-level scenario and apply it to a routine workday.  Are there people on your advisory firm’s team performing their daily activities while harboring this urge to call a “time out”?  Would your team’s day-to-day activities be more effective if everyone shared a “mutual purpose”?  

Mutual purpose often takes the form of a “mission statement”, a clear, concise statement that articulates why your advisory firm exists.  It may include specific references to the types of clients you serve, your investment offerings, approach, or competitive advantage.  Essentially, a mission statement declares how you perceive your firm and how you wish to be perceived externally.  The “audience” for your mission statement includes any stakeholders in your RIA firm, including clients, employees, vendors, or external partners.

Advisory firms typically establish a mission statement as part of a broader strategic planning process.  In our strategic planning process, for instance, the first step is a comprehensive “Assessment” phase that includes an analysis of an RIA’s capabilities and resources that ultimately crafts their mission statement.

A mission statement is a powerful motivator for your team.  It serves as a guidepost for daily activities and can streamline strategic decision making (e.g. evaluating a new business opportunity or considering a potential partnership).   A well-articulated sense of purpose promotes confidence in your stakeholders because it is a proof statement that you know what your advisory firm is (and what it isn’t).

Establishing a mission statement does not have to be time consuming.  Here is a brief outline that steps through the process.

1.) Commit.  Prior to embarking on this process, be sure that you are convinced of the value of a mission statement and commit to creating and implementing one.  If your firm’s leadership cannot communicate the importance and value of a mission statement, your team will sense this. Half-measures will not typically lead to full adoption and can often backfire.  Without practical applications, a process like this can quickly become dismissed as just another “fluffy” management tactic.

2.) Socialize.  Collect ideas from employees and a few clients that know your firm well.  You can begin these conversations with questions like, “What do we do that is unique?”, “What was it about our firm that convinced you to join/hire us?”.

3.) Straw Man.  Take these ideas and create a “straw man”.  Don’t get bogged down on wording or coming up with the perfect mission statement on the first pass.  Print off copies and ask your team to put it on their desk for a few weeks.  As they go about their daily activities, ask them to consider its applicability and accuracy.  Solicit their suggestions for additions or refinements.

4.) Incorporate.  With the feedback that you receive, create a final version and incorporate it both internally and externally.  (And of course, be sure that compliance has reviewed before external use!)  Internally, you may consider framing it and placing it in your reception area or conference room.  Seek opportunities to refer to your mission statement during internal meetings as a way to weave it into your culture.  Externally, you could include your mission statement in client presentations, marketing materials and website. One application that I have found particularly useful is to use the mission statement during the hiring process.  In my experience, there is no better way to “lay your cards out” with a potential new team member than by showing him your mission statement and saying “This is what we are all about.  How do you feel about becoming a part of this?  Can you see yourself contributing to this?”

5.) Refine.  Mission statements should always reflect your current capabilities and market environment so it is definitely appropriate to review periodically and update if your circumstances or positioning has changed.

Over time, your mission statement will become part of the fabric of your firm.  With this solid foundation of “mutual purpose”, you will have set the stage for improved effectiveness and teamwork and be armed with a more impactfull value proposition for your clients and prospects.

About AdvisorAssist
AdvisorAssist is a management consulting firm focused on serving independent RIAs, asset managers and hedge funds by providing expertise and resources in the areas of registration, transition strategy, compliance, marketing and operations. With a focus on people, process and technology, AdvisorAssist delivers actionable solutions to investment advisors seeking to build, grow, protect and optimize their businesses. For more information, please visit AdvisorAssist.com or call 866.513.4042. 

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