Writing a Mission Statement – The ACORN Test
Have you ever wondered what makes for a good mission statement? Thomas Gilbert is someone who has influenced what many of us do and believe when trying to shape organizational direction, however he may not be a name with which many are familiar.
Gilbert was a student of B.F. Skinner, the famous psychologist, and he was well-trained in the principles of behaviorism. However, Gilbert felt that behaviorism was fundamentally misguided because it focused on actions people take, not the results of their actions. Instead, Gilbert argues that we should be focused on worthy accomplishments, or outcomes that have value. These are the targets we should clarify, measure, and align people’s actions towards. Without the context of worthy accomplishments, focusing on the behavior of people can be incomplete, misleading, or both.
While this may seem simple and obvious, Gilbert provides example after example of how organizations ordinarily reward for behavior, and not results. If you don’t believe me, just think about the last time you worked with an organization where managers of different departments had competing metrics, and consequently, when one department would win another could potentially lose. In Gilbert’s view, the worthy accomplishments in these types of situations are not defined well enough at the policy level to influence and sustain the creation of appropriate metrics at the department level.
There are many applications of Gilbert’s work in organizations today. For example, consider the time people use creating mission statements for departments, divisions, and companies. Ideally, these statements are carefully constructed, simple sentences or phrases that describe an organization’s reason for being. Mission statements should also help guide and focus the work of a group. However, it seems that many organizations embark upon the journey to create them without thinking about their functional use.
Here’s a test: think of an organization of which you are a member. Can you recite the mission? Better however, can you describe how the mission of the organization, your department or team guides your daily actions?
Gilbert offers a simple form, ACORN, for creating a good mission and aligning organizational actions.
A – Accomplishment. Use words that describe an outcome or consequence. If a mission has been described as a behavior and not a worthy accomplishment, it has not truly been identified.
C – Control. Those who work in the organization should have dominant control over choices, strategies, and decisions that rule to mission accomplishment. If the way the mission is articulated chiefly depends on others outside the department, consider rewriting it.
O – Overall Objective. Make sure that the mission truly captures the organization’s reason for being. Avoid writing a mission that is simply a subgoal of that overall purpose.
R – Reconciliation. Check that the mission can be reconciled with other goals of the organization. Various units should be working in harmony to unprotected to the overall organization mission.
N – Number. Ensure that the mission or the results from accomplishing the mission can be measured.
The next time you think about creating goals, plans, mission statements, or objectives, consider Thomas Gilbert. He just might help you produce a worthy accomplishment.
Gilbert wrote the book “Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance”, with a tribute edition published in 2007 by the International Society of Performance Improvement (ISPI).