"Missional Creep" – 3 Steps After Success

Apr 22, 2013 | Small Business

Let me explain my PPM blog style.  Well, ‘style’ is a very generous word for how I compose these words.  I am writing these completely as stream of consciousness.  You are getting the incomplete, slightly edited, never curated thoughts of Nate Manahan.  These thoughts are raw, unprocessed, and I fully reserve the right to change my mind.  So, with these caveats, let’s dive into what I have been thinking about the last few weeks.

Road going through door

I have been hearing this phrase, “Missional Creep”, in many of my conversations about small businesses lately. It’s a word that I have always heard in my experiences in the non-profit world, but now it is entrenching itself in the for-profit business universe. No, this is not a person who is a jerk about staying on mission, nor is it some new southeast Asian bird pandemic that threatens cash crops in the upper Midwest.  BUT, it is not a good thing. This intrigues me because I want every business that I work with to be successful financially, strategically, and personally. Avoiding mission creep, in my mind, is very important to gauge success in those fields.  Let’s start by finding a definition—at my go-to, pseudo, trustworthy site, Wikipedia:

Mission creep is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes.[1] Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs.

Mission creep seems to originally have been a military term (read on through the links on Wikipedia for more about that), but now we can refer to businesses that are trying to do too much to have a case of the mission creep. So, what does mission creep look like in our small businesses? In my life?  In my company’s bottom line? Well,  in my opinion, it is when you start doing something that you would have never dreamed about doing when you began (no matter how profitable it may seem).

(A thought from Nate’s stream of consciousness:  Often in a business we need to “pivot” our mission to be successful, profitable, etc.  This is not a bad thing and may be the right thing, however it is critical that I know what I do—and what I do can’t just be “make money.”)

Here are key actions that can help prevent the creep:

1. Know what I do.

Start with the original mission.  Do I make widgets? Do I tell stories? Do I clean bathrooms?  What is my core competency?  Determining what I do is different from how I do it.  Here is an example.

What I do: I help make sure offices in my community are a better, safer, and cleaner places to work.

How I do it: I clean bathrooms in local businesses three times a week.

You must know WHAT you are doing and WHY.  As I stated earlier, the reasons cannot be just “to make money.”  Making money is a result of successfully fulfilling your mission.

2. Know the bottom line.

I need to make money to support myself and support my employees, teammates, and partners etc.  I need to know if my mission actually makes money—obviously.  However, sometimes I might have the correct what (mission) and why, but I need to adjust the how.  I must constantly monitor all the data that I collect and make sure I’m actually being as effective as possible.  Outside eyes are always important in this process.

3. Know what I love to do.

I wish I could say that we can all make a living doing the things we love.  But, that doesn’t always happen.  Even if you love building houses, in all likelihood, you won’t like one or two aspects of the business.  Yet it is important to know what you enjoy so that you can strategize your way to that type of position.  You will be better at doing things you enjoy doing.

If you pay attention to what you do, know that you are making money efficiently, and strive to focus your energy on your passions, you will be on the way to preventing mission creep.

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Nate Manahan
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