Mission vs. Mandate

What’s a business to do?

An organization is typically launched to accomplish a specific mission: to produce a better (or cheaper) product, for example. Or to provide a specific service. Driven. Focused. Purposeful.

But to survive, it has to respond to what the market mandates. Which almost always requires some reshaping of the original vision.

I considered this as I read a New York Times’ article about last week’s sale of Belief.net.

When launched a little over a decade ago, the site was “dedicated to journalism and theological conversation.” At the time, that might have been called an online magazine model.

Change happens.

The “mission” burned through its original venture capital. The “mandate” exploded as droves of new households poured online … and as those prospects’ raced through evolving usage patterns. To survive, the site went through a series of iterations.

At what point are you no longer adjusting your original mission, but have abandoned it? More importantly, how do you know when to let go ... personally, or professionally?

It seems to me that the successful manager has to recognize the conflict between mission and mandate as a healthy and vital process … and must constantly seek balance between the two.

And not just at the enterprise level.

Doesn’t every manager have to adjust the dictates of a specific job description to the skills, abilities and interests of an individual worker?

Isn’t that the point at which an ordinary customer encounter becomes a “moment of truth?”

The days of “locked and loaded” are over; a mission without mandate is doomed to failure.

Nor is mandate without mission a recommended business model. Healthy conflict requires a generous dose of each.

The yin and the yang.