These days almost every company has a mission statement. And almost every one is the same: " ... world-class operation ... delight customers ... treat people with dignity ... create value for stakeholders ... blah, blah, blah."
That's why companies are experimenting with visual mission statements. A graphical representation of the company's mission forces people in the organization to think in new, metaphoric ways about their work; the images that emerge are more dynamic, personal, and meaningful than mere words.
This example belongs to Merix Corp., a $140 million electronic interconnect supplier based in Forest Grove, Oregon, which was spun out of Tektronix in 1994. Merix is headed by 43-year-old Chair and CEO Debi Coleman (firstname.lastname@example.org), who spent 11 years at Apple, including stints as vice president of operations, CFO, and CIO. The visual mission statement was created for Merix by David Sibbet (email@example.com), 51-year-old president and CEO of The Grove Consultants International, a strategic visioning and process consulting firm based in San Francisco. His clients also include National Semiconductor, Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Silicon Graphics, Levi Strauss, Hewlett-Packard, and the National Park Service.
David Sibbet: "The onrush of new technology has made it more important than ever that companies articulate their strategic visions. Graphics have emerged as a powerful tool. I think of it as a 'graphics cafe' where people can come to share their ideas. Visuals facilitate dialogue. You can literally see what you're talking about.
"In the case of Merix, I listened to the discussions at a company retreat and tried to map out what I heard. The people there focused intensely on the company's core competencies and values. That was what they wanted to build around. Then the metaphor of space emerged. Merix sees itself not only as a high-tech company, but also as futuristic, a company going where no one has gone, on the leading edge of technology. So the design used the M logo as a spaceship. And the company's worldview, its global consciousness, kept coming up. At the meeting, people talked about how fast their industry moves, and how dynamic and complex the business is. There were a few other key elements that had to be front and center: the importance of human resources, technology, and their relationships with suppliers and customers.
"One distinctive feature of the Merix vision was the use of computer graphics. Computer graphics fit the business Merix is in and the space metaphor. We hand-lettered the words for a human feeling."
Debi Coleman: "I come from Silicon Valley, where everybody talks about vision and strategy — but what you get is strategy du jour. When it came time for us to develop our vision statement, we wanted to do something more novel and innovative.
"Our single overriding goal is to be the best electronic interconnect company in the world. This image conveys the power of that idea as well as the challenges. It also tells a story about Merix. It puts our core values and core competencies at the center of the company, tells the history of the company and our proud relationship to Tektronix, and identifies our suppliers and partners.
"We thought about the images very carefully. For instance, at first Merix was going to be represented as a satellite. But then we thought, no, it's got to be moving. So it became a mother ship, with suppliers and partners constantly coming up to the ship to bring their goods, their information, and their technology. The recycle station on the top of the M says that the environment is a key focus for us — it's a core value. The word 'Baldrige' is there because that award is one of the mechanisms we use to measure our quality. We have exploratory spaceships headed out to new markets and other spaceships headed in to represent new customers. Each of these images means something to us. If you could put this drawing on a computer and double-click on each image, underneath each one you'd find serious plans, strategies with time lines, and performance measures. If you look around Merix, this picture is on people's walls, on workbenches, even on T-shirts."
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.