The importance of mission in business

It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that almost nothing is as important in business as mission.  Boyd had a German word for this, auftragstaktik, and he defined it as a contract between leadership and subordinates that defined why that relationship even existed.  There is no way you can expect effective work from smart people unless they enter this contract.  They have to understand the organization’s mission and then their work will just flow towards that.  If you don’t make explicit the purpose the motivated people will come up with their own version, and the not-so-motivated will give up and do less work.

I get the feeling that many organizations only give singular missions to teams or subordinates and forget to unify everything.  It’s apparent when we’re dealing with a company that is making enormous mistakes on the ground, but everybody thinks they’re doing their job correctly because their individual mission is following through.  Nobody there has taken a step back to see how little actions may going to tear that company down in the long run.  Maybe business development’s success is linked to number of logos on a partner page, PR’s success is tied to number of press articles, and development’s success is based on the rate they can crank out new features.  Great!  But what ties it all together?  What is the point?

This mistake happens internally sometimes for us, too.  We grew so fast over the last few months that when a new employee came on they were told a bunch of tasks and they weren’t given a sense for how they fit in the overall picture.  The people I work with are so bright that whenever they come up with something we could do it is almost always a good idea, but not always is it central to our mission.  Or maybe it does relate to our mission, just not yet.  With a small team and a limited amount of cash in the bank we can only expect to inch our way to our goal as a unit.  There can be almost no splintering of functions or projects across our tiny organization, every move has to count.

The word (another German one) for an individual mission or focus is schwerpunkt, and it must be born of the auftragstaktik.  At Infochimps we have one goal – to be the plumbing for the data web.  To that end, our organization has 3 teams – a business development team, a data team, and a site team.  Business development’s job, or schwerpunkt, is to listen to as many people as possible for which data is valuable and to evaluate opportunities for the company.  Data team’s schwerpunkt is listen to this feedback and build products, and the site team’s schwerpunkt is to build the best site possible that enables this pipeline.  So long as everyone is working with their schwerpunkt, the company will always be in motion towards its goal.  Partner logos, press articles, and site features are only means to this end.

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