When Toronto-based consultant Donald Cooper runs a corporate workshop, he displays the company's mission statement, vision statement, statement of values and statement of purpose – but he hides the label for each chunk of text. Then he asks the employees to identify which statement is which. Rarely do they get it right.
It's an example of the big failing in the businesses that he tries to fix – a lack of clarity. "Businesses have no clarity about what they want to do and how to get there and how to behave along the way. Our first job is clarity," Mr. Cooper said in an interview.
For the past seven years, he has worked to develop simple, practical, logical approaches – one-page templates, meant to be presented in clear language – that can help companies gain that clarity.
The templates are now available through his company website, with a $24 fee for downloading a copy and his blessing to print as many other copies as you need to share within your company and improve your strategy. The main advantage of the templates, Mr. Cooper says, is that they don't include "consultanese," which he defines as language "in which you know the meaning of every word in a sentence but don't know the meaning of the sentence."
Before he turned to consulting, Mr. Cooper created the highly successful Cooper Canada Ltd., which manufactured sporting goods and leather products; later he moved into boutique fashion retailing. So he brings a variety of experience to his consulting work.
He starts by building a clear, understandable vision that can inspire others. Many companies, he notes, cram their vision statements with motherhood statements like "honouring their customers" or "having fun" that offer no real direction to employees.
The vision needs to be a clear and measurable statement of what the organization commits to become within the next three to five years. "Our business vision is like a map. We wouldn't think of travelling where we are now to some place that we've never been without first obtaining a map to guide us. Our business vision is simply a map that we create to clarify where we're going, how we'll get there and about when we'll arrive," he writes in his online guide.
Throughout your vision statement, you make specific commitments, so it's not just vague hopes or wishy-washy aims and objectives. "We need to stop 'aiming' and start committing," he states. "There's a huge difference between a goal or a target and a commitment. A 'target' is something that we hit sometimes and miss other times … and it's okay. It's just a target. A 'goal' is something that we score sometimes and don't score other times … and that's life. At least we tried. But a 'commitment' is something fundamentally different."
The vision statement should offer specific commitments on issues such as sales growth and profitability, the compelling customer value you will always deliver, key issues that make you vulnerable, business culture, operational effectiveness, and how you'll make a difference in your community and the world. If you can't guess the future, he said, that doesn't matter, because you are committing. You are no longer a victim of circumstances. You are a creator of circumstances.
When that's completed, you can develop your mission statement: A clear, one-page statement of what you commit to do, this year, in every part of the business, to move toward the three- to five-year vision. You should create a fresh mission statement about two months before the end of each fiscal year, so you know what you intend to accomplish in the coming year.
His one-page template begins with: "This year we commit to generate sales of $xxx with a gross margin of xx per cent, and after-tax profit of $xxx which will give a return on investment of xx per cent."
Next: "This year we commit to deliver the following new and compelling value and experiences that will 'grab' our target customers, clearly differentiate us from our competition, and make us 'famous.'" You should also define the progress you will make on key issues, enhancing your business culture, improving your operational effectiveness, and making a difference in the world.
Mr. Cooper supports having a statement of purpose and statement of values. But they should be practical – and at most one page. The statement of purpose details why you are in business, and what you stand for. "It's important to know why we do stuff," he observes.
He also asks you to fill out a "commitment to profitability" template. It requires calculation of what profit is needed to give the owner and investors sufficient funds, and to have money to reinvest and to serve as a cushion in bad times. Working from those targets, you track back to the sales and margins required, and the new initiatives required to fuel those sales.
You would offend Mr. Cooper if you tried to grapple with his templates while at a corporate retreat. The crusty 71-year-old notes that retreat means going backward, and he wants you to go forward. And do it yourself: "People pay consultants $30,000 to $40,000 to come up with crap. I have seen vision and mission statements that are useless."
Indeed, he said the hardest part is simply getting your mind around the fact that a vision statement can actually be clear and helpful.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter