We are on a Mission…
April 21, 2021
Contributor: Ned Howey
“Our mission is not just winning campaigns.”
“That helps us move towards our mission.”
“That’s not within our mission.”
All of these phrases you could have heard tripping off the lips of leadership here at Tectonica over the past years.
We’ve talked about making decisions based on ‘our mission’ as a company for ages. Certainly we’ve always approached the work of our business at Tectonica as having a greater mission of making positive change in the world. We talked around the mission, doing things for the mission, and even about the mission.
And yet somehow at the agency, we’ve muddled through seemingly knowing in our hearts what we are here to do, without ever really taking the time to put pen to paper, and wordsmithing the exact purpose of our work. We knew from the process of writing down our company values a couple years ago - and from the almost ubiquitous role of missions in organisations we work with - having a mission can deeply serve us in many ways. After months of work, we finally have a written mission to share with the world and to guide our team. And here we have it:
Our mission is to create a seismic shift in the way politics are done, through innovations that empower social, economic and environmental justice movements.
As with all things, it seems so easy in retrospect. Now that we have it, it appears glaringly obvious to us and everyone we share it with (perhaps a sign we did something right). The process, however, was anything but. And what we’ve learned from this rather laborious experience, is that, in fact, the struggle in the process of its creation there was also great value.
Missions Aren’t Easy - And Especially Not Ours
While all missions are undoubtedly complex, we definitely got ‘bogged down’ with some particular elements that are complex in our specific work. Namely we struggled a lot with the role we have as related to our clients and their objectives. While ultimately the achievement of progressive work around the world is what drives us, we were clear that we generally take a supporting role in relationship to our client’s missions. As we often say, we are kind of like the “Fab 5 for Digital Organising” - bringing in a set of specialisations but always to help uncover the power that already lies in the communities we work with.
Without a doubt the core of our work is about eventually achieving a world that is more open, democratic, fair, tolerant, progressive and just - and only take clients we view in line with this.
In addition, the work that we do is about the achievement of a more progressive world, but for us it's more than just that - it's also about innovating the way organisations and political parties do politics - they way they build power, not just the power they build. We struggled greatly in the development of our mission to balance these two elements: the outcome of our client’s work and the role we have in influencing the way groups do the work.
We’re Not a Tech Company
We realised very clearly through this process, that in fact we are not a tech company. Just like Amazon might be based on building technology, at its core is a retail network. Our work might involve technology as a key role, but technology is not by any stretch the defining factor. As we like to say, “tech follows methods.” What makes the work we do so special, is the organising methods themselves, no matter what specialty area we are implementing them in (tech, creative, etc.).
Changing the Way We Do Politics
Another common phrase at the agency is, “all our clients could win their campaigns and our mission still wouldn’t be complete.” Indeed our clients mostly hire us for our role in helping win - whether that’s electoral campaigns or issue-based ones. And our clients winning is certainly important to us. But we consider that very much a happy bi-product of us ‘doing the work right’.
For us, this is about developing and implementing methods that power movements through people. We help our clients do so in all kinds of ways, from helping implement approaches where people can see themselves in the movement, to applying scalable technologies that help supporters have more deep engagement, a seat at the table, and a voice in the work. It is this approach that is both functionally effective and - we believe - helps us move the meter at large towards more progressive ends. If we are to achieve democratic ends, we need to be democratic in doing so. And our values need to be as deeply ingrained in how we do the work as it is in the ends we seek to achieve.
The process with which we do the work, is both as important as, and heavily influences, the success of the work itself. As was also the case for the development of the mission itself.
To be honest, at a certain point in our mission development, we thought we weren’t going to arrive on the other side with a finalised mission. While we tasked our leadership with the job of its actual development (smaller groups are easier for creating a cohesive result), we agreed at the outset we would do so only with deep consultation, input, revision, and guidance from our team. And perhaps most importantly, only sign off on a finalised mission when there was consensus across the entire staff team.
We committed our weekly staff meetings to its discussion in a process that ended up lasting some months. At times it felt like we were entirely lost. One stuck word became a discussion for almost an entire meeting. Another meeting started with half the team agreeing to one idea with the other disagreeing, only to end with almost 100% flip in who supported what. Would we ever settle on a mission?
Being so many years into the work and already operating with an unspoken idea of the value of our work, actually makes it much harder. We were tasked with describing something huge that was already there as a core part of our company identity and had little room to stray from the unwritten ideas we already held. The act of putting words to it is an act of communal creation - itself a kind of art.
This work can seem hard and at times feel like wasted hours when everyone has so much to get done. But the process of conflict, disagreement, generation of ideas, excitement, feeling lost at times - all of it - is actually the work itself of creating a valuable mission that serves its true role as a lynchpin to the company, organisation or political party. Not only is the investment about developing a mission that truly reflects the core of operations itself, but the process of having the entire team deeply understand and have buy-in with the mission - in a way that influences how they see and conduct their work. It's hard because it is important. That said, “Changing the world takes hard work, not tricks” is one of our core values at Tectonica.
As these things do, when consensus is actually honored in process, a final draft was followed by the rare silence of no objections in our last meeting on the topic. I think we might have all been wondering, “is this finally it?”. We made the rounds to see if each team member was on board and we finally - after 9 years of operation - had a mission for our company. We ran the draft by key stakeholders in the community to ensure it also matched how our external world viewed its accuracy:
“You’ve landed in the right place.”
From our experience creating a mission that goes beyond marketing materials and strikes to the core of what brings you to the work, when done right, is not always an easy process. It is, however, a worthwhile investment of time not only for the value that having a relevant mission serves, but for the impact of conducting the process itself.
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