03 Make Your Mission CLEAR

It is easy to forget that we don’t communicate with others despite being different from us; we communicate with people because they think differently than we do.

We naturally share things as we think of them; we use our logic, our experience, our vocabulary, and our assumptions. We believe our partners in the conversation will surely understand the things we share the way we do. That’s rarely the case. This challenge goes so deep that it can affect every word, every sentence, and every piece of data we share, but it starts with the most essential thing we need to communicate: our mission. 

To be useful, our mission must be concise and simple enough to fit into the iAIM statement. But that is hardly enough. Being the basis for any following interaction, the mission should also be CLEAR: Coherent and Complete, (creates) Leverage, (encapsulates) Evolution, Accessible, and (creates) Resonance. The ideal mission has all six attributes, including being concise.

When the mission we define is Coherent everyone involved in the communication flow understands it in the same way. Ambiguity is a significant contributor to ineffective communication (and, quite often, the frustration that comes with it). While we probably can’t eliminate it, we should actively try to minimize it as much as possible. 

Take the mission “to recruit the best people,” for example. When I read it, it is undoubtedly tangible: I can see the people I wish to recruit in my mind and use this mental model in any upcoming interaction. I can verify that any interaction helps us move toward this goal. The problem is that my colleagues likely have a completely different interpretation of what makes a potential employee “the best” for our organization. Having these different interpretations is not by itself bad. On the contrary, it might lead to a more interesting discussion and, eventually, better results. But if these different interpretations are implicit and not confronted, they might create a lot of misalignments and friction as we discuss the issue at stake. 

To make this mission coherent, we must define what “best” means in this context. If we don’t have a definition we can agree on, we should have a preliminary discussion to develop one. Without it, we won’t be able to use the mission as a lighthouse. 

A mission enabling effective communication is also Complete: it captures what we aim to achieve, not just part of it. 

Consider the mission: “to meet the project’s predefined targets.” When discussing a specific aspect of the project, for example, the risks, it is tempting to use a more concrete mission such as “to reduce the risk level of the project.” However, while this mission seems more helpful for that particular discussion, it creates some significant blind spots. Reducing the risk level might come at the expense of other targets. Keeping the actual, complete goal in mind might make the conversation about the risks more challenging, but it will be more effective as it will not deviate from the overarching goal we are trying to achieve. 

When we define the initiative part of the iAIM statement, we will see just how the goal of a concrete interaction fits in the grander mission so we can keep both in our field of vision.

When you verify your mission is complete, don’t be tempted to add too many details; we still aim for concise phrasing. Shorthand phrasing such as “its predefined targets” is a perfect alternative to listing the actual targets in the mission, assuming they are written and accessible to the team. 

To be effective, the mission we define must create Leverage. Simply put, the mission should help us fine-tune every aspect of communication. 

The mission “to increase sales by 10%” might be good when your associates are all part of the Sales team. But does it create leverage when you are a Project Manager in R&D discussing the project status with technical managers? Can it help the team verify they are on the right path toward the destination when you discuss what has to be done next? The distance between what the R&D team has to do today and the increased sales potential is too vast. Few people, if any, working on technical aspects of the project can use this mission to decide what to share in an upcoming discussion or include in the following email based on a sales-oriented mission. 

A mission that creates leverage is not just tangible — it defines a destination you and your associates can work towards and affect directly. Otherwise, it is just an empty statement no one can relate to and promote. Leverage in this context means helping everyone understand whether the interaction is needed and how to design it for maximum impact. 

The next trait of an effective mission is that it encapsulates an Evolution: it describes a state we wish to be in compared to where we are today. 

Our minds are drawn to dynamics. We communicate to achieve something. Combining these two facts should result in a mission phrased using a verb that creates movement from our current reality to a desired one.

Communication is always done with others. Therefore, our mission must be Accessible to the people we communicate with. It must be phrased in terms our associates understand and can relate to. We should use a shared vocabulary we all know how to use in a discussion.

One of the most common mistakes we make when interacting with others is to assume they know what we know and understand things the way we do. We tend to forget that we often communicate with people from different backgrounds, even when working on the same project or pursuing the same goal. This is not just a fact of life — this diversity is essential for co-creation. But it means we must bridge potential gaps in how we think about and communicate information and ideas. 

The language you use when you define the mission needn’t be overly simplified or generic; it does have to be well-understood by all the people you communicate with. 

Last but not least, a good mission Resonates with our partners in the conversation. They don’t just understand it — they accept it as their own. They realize the mission impacts them. They care about it. 

This might be the trickiest part of defining the mission (and any following content). But when the mission resonates with our associates, every discussion becomes laser-focused. We still have to solve things, develop ideas, and agree on how to operate; this is precisely what our creative energy should be invested in. We are not wasting any energy arguing where we aim to be at the end of the road; together, we are paving the way to take us there. 

Defining a mission that resonates with our associates is not always possible. When we define such a mission, though, we are in the best position possible to kick off an effective discussion. 

When we define a CLEAR mission, there’s a greater chance it will help us and our associates establish meaningful communication and, eventually, get closer to our joint goal. Remember, though, that we communicate not to convince and have it our way but to co-create. Having a tangible overarching and CLEAR mission is essential but insufficient. Often, our associates have their own missions in mind. When this is the case, we should ensure the different missions can be integrated.

Reflection and Practice

Use the mission you’ve defined in the previous chapter and verify it is CLEAR:

  • Concise: It is phrased as a single sentence with no redundancies. 
  • Coherent: It is not ambiguous and will be understood similarly by the people involved in the discussion. 
  • Complete: It does not miss anything essential. 
  • Creates Leverage: You can use it to decide what to include in the communication and whether the interaction is needed. 
  • Encapsulates Evolution: It describes a shift from where you are at to where you are aiming to be.
  • Accessible: It uses terminology and concepts your partners in the conversation can understand. 
  • Resonates: Your partners can relate to, care about, and treat it as their own.
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