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Business Strategy: "This Is a Football", Part 1

Updated on April 28, 2013
Dr Jerry Allison profile image

Dr Jerry is an associate professor at the Tillman School of Business at University of Mount Olive teaching management and analytics courses.

Many people know the story of legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi in his first year. After becoming very frustrated with his team during practice, he called his team together and began with the basics. "This is a football", he said and proceeded to reteach his team the very fundamentals of football. His professional football players sat through a lecture on introductory football topics. But it was what the team needed.

People in for-profit and non-profit organizations can forget the fundamentals of business. In some cases, they have never learned the fundamentals. Previous articles (see below) have examined the need for business strategy. This article is part one in a series of a very basic tenet of business -- laying the groundwork for developing a strategy. In particular, I focus here on developing a mission statement. "This is a football..."

Pre-Strategy Requirements: Mission Statement

There is much debate in the strategic management literature about how to develop a strategy. However, there is agreement on what needs to be done before developing a strategy. In a nutshell, a firm needs to know itself and its place in the environment (or market). The process of a firm identifying itself may seem easy but in many cases there is a tremendous amount of work to be done. In this article, I will examine the first step -- creating a mission statement.

A mission statement, or vision statement, is defined by Hill and Jones as "a formal declaration of what the company is trying to achieve over the medium to long term."1 Pearce and Robinson take the definition a little further stating "company mission is defined as the fundamental purpose that sets a firm apart from other firms of its type and identifies the scope of its operations in product and market terms."2 In summary, a mission statement is a statement that defines why the firm exists and defines general principles on how the firm is going to operate.

The first part of a mission statement is the general purpose or vision. This can be created by asking some basic questions. First, what should the image of the firm be for those inside and outside the organization? This question implies that image of the firm is determined by how the firm treats people inside and outside the organization. Second, in what market or environment is the firm? This defines the product or services that will affect the people mentioned in the first question. Third, why is the firm in this market? This question defines generally the goals of the organization. In short, the general purpose defines who, what, and why.

After this general statement, there is a lot of variation in mission statements. Some firms put in a list of values that are important. Some firms take the goal given in the general statement and expand that into more detailed goals. Other firms define more clearly its products and markets. Any combination of these is also acceptable.

So what goes into the mission statement? In short, who the firm is, why it exists, and the values it holds. The mission statement defines the core principles and values of the organization that become the guidelines for every action the firm takes.

Conclusion

The mission statement is a statement of who, what, and why. It is the defining document for how the firm behaves. Every action the organization takes should be within the boundaries set by the mission statement. Each person inside the organization should have knowledge of the mission statement and the values listed in it and then act accordingly.

Vince Lombardi in his statement "This is a football" made a declaration his team was focused on football, not baseball, soccer, or hockey. His team was to act like a football team. While other sports are good, Lombardi defined a set of actions and values for his team. It is the focus by everyone upon one set of values that creates the conditions for success.

Footnotes

1Hill, Charles & Jones, Gareth (1998). Strategic Management: An Integrated Approach (4th ed). Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

2Pearce, John & Robinson, Richard (1991). Formulation, Implementation, and Control of Competitive Strategy (4th ed). Irwin, Boston.

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