Imagine you receive a phone call from someone, asking you to do something. It might be a client putting in a request for work or a friend asking you to help organise a surprise birthday party, for example. They tell you this goal should be achieved by the end of the month. You probably want to achieve that goal, right – whether it’s for yourself, to please them, or a bit of both?
Now imagine that, just after hanging up the phone, you receive another call from someone else, also asking you to do something. They tell you that this mission needs to be completed by the end of the month.
So what do you do now? Both things have an end-of-the-month deadline. You can’t do both, so which do you choose?
It’s a small difference and I’m making a big assumption that all other factors are equal, but I think you’re more likely to accept the task that’s been presented as a ‘mission’ than the one that’s working towards a ‘goal’. Here’s why.
It’s easy to underestimate how big an impact our choice of words can have, on other people and on ourselves. The way we phrase a message can influence how we perceive it and how we then act on it. I’ve used the goal/mission example because it’s cropped up a couple of times recently.
The first time was in Jim Kirkpatrick’s session that I attended at Training Zone Live, during which he talked about turning the Kirkpatrick model upside down and starting with the end, Level 4. I think it was an extract Jim showed from US federal government regulations to do with learning that referred to achieving Level 4 business results as ‘mission accomplishment’. Everything below that contributes to mission accomplishment.
The second time was in Saffron’s free e-learning course for Learning At Work Day. The course, called ‘Planning for results, not activity’, is about an alternative to the ‘traditional’ task-based project plan approach. It advocates an approach that is driven by the desired end result. The example used throughout the (light-hearted) course is that of the moon landing mission. There’s that word again: mission.There’s something about the phrase ‘mission accomplishment’ that’s missing from ‘achievement of goal/target/aim’. All of those things seem to suggest something that’s almost optional. ‘Mission accomplishment’ sounds somehow more critical – it must be done and it will be done; failure is not an option.
I’m obviously not suggesting that you start describing every project you embark on as a mission. But perhaps your most high-profile, high-value projects are worthy of something a little more motivating than the generic language we bandy around all the time.
What do you think? How does the way you talk about and describe a project affect how you approach it?