|Posted by Tiffany Chang on April 8, 2021 at 9:30 AM|
On a whim, I decided to explore the mission statements of orchestras across the country in all 50 states. I was curious what they are, whether there are any similarities, and whether examining them would reveal any insights. I didn't really know what I was looking for, and it seemed like a fun activity for midnight on a Saturday.
So I looked at every state and a total of 71 orchestras in March 2021 (by no means a comprehensive list). Here are some interesting statistics:
First, these are common words that we associate with orchestral organizations. After each word, you'll see how many mission statements they appeared in.
Second, orchestras are cultural icons of their locations, so I wanted to see how many of their cities, regions, and states actually made it into mission statements. Here are the number of missions that mentioned:
Now, we can each make our own interesting conclusions based on this set of information. (One that surprised me is actually how few orchestras identify their hometown as a reason for being.) And I'm sure there are other sets of data that could be extracted to be examined. However, this kind of analysis is not what I want to write about in this post.
THE POINT OF THIS POST:
What I found the most interesting is that many mission statements are interchangeable. Here's what I saw:
"The mission of (insert orchestra here) is to enrich, educate, and inspire our community through excellent orchestral music."
31 orchestras basically have this same language. They may add additional text that specifies the region they want to target and how they achieve this (live concerts, educational programs, etc), but you could swap the orchestra and region and it would work.
Generic mission statements may be best practice and absolutely legitimate, but they often don't elicit visceral reactions and involuntary goosebumps. They say "inspire", but you don't feel inspired. You don't respond enthusiastically with "hey, that's totally for me!"
The unique mission statements really stood out. Here are the ones that struck me:
The San Diego Symphony, through unquestionable commitment to the highest levels of artistic achievement, seeks to elevate human potential by providing a shared sense of pride and belonging to something bigger than any of us can achieve alone.
Colorado Symphony: Creating extraordinary musical experiences that transport today's listener, from the best of the past to the edge of the future
The Chicago Sinfonietta champions diversity, equity, and inclusion by creating community through bold symphonic experiences.
The Seattle Symphony unleashes the power of music, brings people together and lifts the human spirit.
The mission of The Phoenix Symphony is to provide the joy of music as a catalyst in helping Arizona to become the best place in America to work and live.
Grand Rapids Symphony: Our mission is to share great music that moves the human soul.
Here are a couple standout phrases:
Boston Symphony Orchestra: "...dedicated to the making of music consonant with the highest aspirations of the musical art..."
Madison Symphony Orchestra, Inc.: "...to advocate music as a universal language of expression and understanding."
These make us feel something and call us to action. The specificity made them feel real and inspiring (without using the word inspire!). And they all paint a clear picture of belonging to a unified purpose. And they all suggest concrete strategic intent.
"A powerful strategic intent inspires people partially because it answers the question, 'How will we know when we are done?'" (McKeown in Harvard Business Review here)
WHY HAVE MISSION STATEMENTS?
Mission statements help articulate "people like us do things like this," à la Seth Godin. Simon Sinek calls it "just cause." David Burkus calls it "Pick a Fight" (here's the audiobook by the same name).
Powerfully specific mission statements position an organization to stand out from the rest of the market. More importantly, it broadcasts a clear signal that attracts like-minded people who want to join the same fight. It helps align values that determine every employee's motivations, mindset, and actions from the top down. There is a deep commitment to work for the cause, and beyond the paycheck.
You may think I'm advocating for a mission statement, but in fact, here is why mission statements are not the point:
"The commitment is the source of the mission. The statements are merely the byproduct of the commitment. A mission statement can’t create a commitment. And a commitment can’t be thwarted by lack of a mission statement. Nelson Mandela didn’t have a mission statement for creating a free South Africa. But man, was he on a mission." (Pallotta in Harvard Business Review here)
So, here are some questions to ask ourselves:
What are your personal commitments? What are your organization's commitments? Do they align?
Do you know what your orchestra mission statement is? Is it really clear? Do you subscribe to it? Would you share it proudly with strangers?
What is your job and how does what you do help the mission?
Do you ever have conversations about the mission with leadership or colleagues? Do you hear others talking about it? Does your workplace remind you of it?
Has leadership told you actual stories of how what you did help move the needle closer to the mission? If so, how did that make you feel?
Organizations need to be open and bold about saying, "This is what we're about, and if it's not for you, that's OK." This mindset of specificity helped some organizations really flourish.
Consider these 12 mission statements:
Nike: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.
Apple: To bringing the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and services.
Sony: To be a company that inspires and fulfills your curiosity.
The Coca-Cola Company: To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.
Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
JetBlue: To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground.
Workday: To put people at the center of enterprise software.
Microsoft: Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
Squarespace: Squarespace empowers people with creative ideas to succeed.
Google: To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
Spotify: Our mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity — by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.
What if musicians could target in their job search for the "shared cause"? What if the audition process could target those with the "shared cause" instead of just every excellent violinist in the world? (Unless, of course, gathering the world's best players is your shared cause.)
What kind of job market would result? What kind of organizations would we have? What kind of work cultures would we have? What kind of impact could be possible?
This is of course the ideal scenario, and the financial and societal realities would prevent it from fully taking form. But I still wonder if it would ever be possible.
The last thing I want to share is the mission of the Berlin Philharmonic: "128 virtuosi – 1 orchestra." Powerful and inspiring, yes - but also extremely concrete in identity, commitment, and belief.
I hope that one day, we can be committed to transforming where we work, how we work, who we work with, and (most importantly) why we work.
(If you're interested in the list of the 71 orchestra mission statements, download it here.)