Speaking with some clients in a Fortune 500 firm today, I was impressed, once again, with the importance of identifying a clear, concise purpose and intent for the firm and communicating that so everyone understands it. In the case of one of my current clients, the complaint is that "if we are waiting for executive management to tell us what our corporate goal or intent is, the project won't get done". Too many firms are unwilling to create clear, concise statements of intent, because by doing so it creates sharp contrasts around what the firm should or shouldn't invest in, and what customers are more or less welcome. Creating these "bright lines" is both inclusive and exclusive.
The challenge that many individuals in these firms face is that it is almost impossible to know where to focus their energies. Since there are no clear, bright shining goals and nothing seems to be "ruled out", what can be classified as important? What should our products and services strive towards? How do we determine where to place our emphasis and our investments? Perhaps the management teams of many firms are worried that by creating clear messages of intent and purpose they'll scope the opportunity too narrowly and great markets and segments will be missed. My experience is that the ambiguity around scope and intent just creates hesitancy and confusion, and allows individuals with forceful personalities to dictate strategy.
I'd enjoy working with a firm where everyone has a clear understanding of the corporate goals and strategic intent, where the mantra can be quickly repeated by everyone. This may seem a bit limiting, but in this limitation is freedom. While the mantra may act to limit some actions, it frees up the questions and difficult decision making in the gray areas and leaves more time for thinking and decisive actions elsewhere. Small firms and entrepreneurial firms place all their hopes in one big idea, product or service, and everyone works to achieve the success of that product or service or they are "off the bus". Larger firms often have conflicting goals and products/services, and want to gain market share. To do so they have to be many things to many people, and that dilutes the messaging, the intent and the brand. Eventually, it clouds thinking and decision making as well.