Simple but Not Easy
Thank you, Maddie Grant, for posting a thoughtful response to my "Clarity is Hard Work" post. Everyone please go read it if you haven't already. As expected, her focus is on how to "just get crackin." She provides a random example of an association's mission statement and then boils it down to the "core business proposition" and uses that to illuminate how the association can begin to develop a social media strategy. She provides simple instructions for how you can do the same with your organization and its mission.
So as much as Maddie and I push back against each other, let's be perfectly clear: we completely agree. I agree that this process is not that complicated and that nearly all association professionals have an intuitive sense of what their organization is about. I agree that waiting until the powers that be deliver us some clarity is not particularly the right thing to do. I agree we can start now. I agree we are capable of moving forward with what we have.
But I still think it's harder than Maddie thinks. She says specifically that it's not that complicated--and that's the rub. It may be simple instead of complicated, but there is a difference between simple and easy. Maddie did a great job of distilling down ISTE's mission statement into a core business proposition, but I think it's a bit deceiving.
First, I think Maddie is better than most at distilling things down. I'm not sure everyone can take a lofty mission statement and pull out the essence so easily.
Second, it's never enough for one person to distill the essence. This is an organization we're talking about, therefore the clarity has to be shared among a group of people, rather than clarity within one individual's head.
That is the real hard part that I'm talking about: shared understanding. Shared understanding is hard work, particularly when it's about something important, like our organization's mission. In many organizations we would rather skip the hard work of shared understanding, or we think we can achieve it through wordsmithing. Or our frustration leads us to settle for the lowest common denominator (hence all the bad mission statements).
So does this change Maddie's advice? I don't think so. You should still get clear in your head and write up something for the social media team in your organization. But do make sure that people on that team are willing to challenge what you came up with, because it is through that conflict that are likely to achieve shared understanding.
And as soon as you get that clarity and start working, expect everything to change. Expect that someone higher up will challenge your distillation of the mission statement. Embrace that as an opportunity to further refine and clarify (rather than meeting it with an exasperated "they don't get it" reaction). Expect to discover things like your social media efforts don't support all parts of your mission equally, so you'll have to revise your social media purpose statement. Expect that after you get into it, you'll discover that different people on your social media team understood that purpose statement differently and you'll have to resolve those conflicts.
It's not that complicated and it shouldn't prevent you from getting started immediately, but it's still hard work, which makes sense, because it's important.