Der Weg ist das Ziel! How to create an impactful statement

by Didier Marlier on Saturday June 13th, 2015

Last week’s post has attracted a lot of attention and numerous comments (almost all private, given the level most of you operate at). A consensus seems to emerge:

  • A Vision/Mission/Strategic/Values Statement  cannot be reduced to a simple communication exercise.
  • Nevertheless, we often fall into the trap of thinking that the elaboration of an almost perfect statement, and its subsequent communication package, mark the end of the process, when it should be its beginning.
  • So many means have usually been invested in getting the Vision/Mission/Strategic/Values statement right that we feel nervous when it gets discussed.

So how to get a Statement which fulfills its purpose?

There is a German saying which captures the essence of my response to this: “Der Weg ist das Ziel” (it is the journey, which is the final objective!)

Writing the perfect statement is just the beginning

The most frequent mistake is to be obsessed by the “magic formula”. How many painful, irritating and boring sessions have we sat in, when the experts of the communication agency come and present the result of their work to the Board or ad hoc committee in charge of “The Statement”. People will cross the T’s, dot the I’s, argue on almost each and every single word. A consensus is far and the CEO or team leader, when their patience has dried out, bang their fist on the table and, to everyone’s delight, decide what the wording should be… Talk about engagement and collective decision…

It is difficult to be engaged, let alone dream, about somebody else’s statement… A too prescriptive, detailed and “perfect” statement will make its initiators happy and proud but rarely the rest of us… People will pretend to buy-in, just to have this painful discussion over and get on with their more productive work.

In a recent convention, I made an involuntary mistake which ended up creating a lot of value: It had been agreed that, at the start, the leader would show a short presentation about the strategy of his organization. Subsequently, his Management Team members would individually take groups of 10 people to hold a more intimate discussion about what had been presented. I was on stage and completely forgot the PowerPoint stage and sent directly the audience to hold discussions with their leaders… I confusedly sensed that I might have had forgotten something when looking at the distressed faces of the Management Team members. But, they went on to host those strategy related conversations… The result was fantastic: They all explained their understanding of the strategy (each one probably with their own Finances, HR, Sales, Operations etc. bias) and truly engaged with their people. The result was outstanding. People felt authenticity, alignment and clarity coming from their leaders. It gave birth to one of the best conventions my partners and I ever followed.

I would advise not to dedicate unecessary means in looking for the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow (ie. the perfectly polished statement). Invite your people to dream with you! Create time and space for them to discuss, reflect, dream, explore and make the statement they will own. Do not try to tell them what their dream should be and, as long as their statement are different but point into the same direction, let it be!

Getting the statement and communication package out is not the purpose

… This is just the beginning of the journey. Like filling your rucksack with food, water and dry clothes before an expedition, having “a” (and not “THE”) statement out and a sort of support pack is just the beginning of the walk. Trying to impose or sell, even engage people on a pre-cooked product means you lose the richest part of the process. It comes down to renting a helicopter to take you to the top of the mountain instead of being all together, suffering, supporting, doubting, hoping arguing, agreeing prior to reaching the summit. Those who took the flight will fear no ownership, no pride, nor meaning about the expedition. It won’t be “theirs”.

Letting emerge a powerful Statement is a fantastic opportunity to bring the community together, it is a unique chance to build a shared and common foundation prior to erecting the walls of a temple which its builders will be proud of and intellectually and emotionally own.

Stories are more powerful than strategies

No matter how perfect your final Vision, Mission, Strategy, Values etc. Statement and communication will be, stories that people tell to each other about “the reality” (i.e. their perception of reality) will always “win” against the corporate voice. Some years ago, I remember to have worked with an important industrial group in the Nordics. I was supporting their communication team. They showed me numerous studies made in many countries in the world. These all pointed the same: In an organization, the stories told by our trusted colleagues or bosses, are far more credible than any corporate message.

When I look at how many “wonderfully smart” and well-crafted models are nothing more than posters on the wall that nobody truly applies nor believes in, with so many organizations, I feel sad for the amount of energy, money, talent and good intentions wasted.

Stories cannot be made up. They cannot be forced on people. They emerge from the perception of reality, from what subordinates observe in their leaders’ behaviours (remember that 70% of a group’s culture can be related to the observable behaviours of its leaders) and from the collective dialogue.This is why it takes more time and effort to have people truly believe in Vision, Mission, Strategy or Values.

I loved this poster from It sums it up nicely for me 😉


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