The formula is E= -SUM(p(i)*log2p(i)), where i indexes the events being tallied, and p(i) is the probability of each event i.
It’s how to calculate E, the amount of entropy … that is, information … in a system.
Unless, that is, you’re calculating the amount of information in a typical mission or vision statement. Then the formula is simpler: E=0, which is to say your average mission or vision statement is devoid of information.
You can search the entire universe of business (or, to simplify your efforts, search an entire Large Language Model of business) and find few parallels for the juxtaposition of earnestness exhibited during the creation of these documents with the cynicism they face once the drafting is done.
What’s particularly strange is how popular these documents are among business theorists given the near-total absence of research demonstrating their utility … especially as the same business theorists are the first to counsel executive management that they should stop engaging in “non-value-adding work” without appreciating the irony.
Information Technology organizations are, in my non-random-sampled experience, particularly prone to victimization by mission-statement advocates. But before we can understand the situation we’d better go back a couple of steps to define our terms:
Mission is what an organization exists to do. It’s akin to a charter, only shorter.
Mission statements are, typically, grammatically sound paragraphs, or in many cases run-on sentences that should be edited into sound paragraphs, that describe everything and anything an organization does, used to do, or might want to do in the future.
That’s what they are. What they ought to be are conversation starters about what the organization’s mission is – why it exists.
That’s why they’re information-free phrases – they provide no guidance as to what the organization should and should not be doing.
But what’s worse about most IT mission statements is how they’re created, and by whom.
The problem with how they’re created is a matter of their time budget: The management team tasked with creating one of these puppies spends, on average, 37.563 seconds on the substance of the statement, occupying the remainder of the one-hour mission-statement drafting meeting arguing about whether “happy” or “glad” is the more suitable word to include.
The problem with who creates the IT mission statement is that IT didn’t will itself into existence in the first place. At some moment in the by-now-distant past, the company’s ELT (executive leadership team) decided the company should have an IT department, either by that name or one of its historical synonyms.
That being the case, tasking IT management with creating an IT mission statement makes no sense. The ELT chartered the IT organization, so it should inform IT management why it exists, instead of asking IT management to guess at the answer.
Bob’s last word: IT vision statements aren’t subject to the same criticisms. As “vision” is a clear explanation of how tomorrow should be different from today, its formulation is a legitimate CIO responsibility, and in fact setting direction is the first of the eight tasks of IT leadership (or, for that matter, any area’s leadership).
And for that matter, while deciding what IT’s mission should be is an ELT responsibility, IT’s leaders are the experts in what it might be, so by all means the ELT should consult IT’s leaders when deciding IT’s mission.
But whether vision or mission, there’s no excuse for the statement that articulates them to be devoid of information. And as the ELT is involved, might I suggest involving the Chief Marketing Officer in how they’re phrased?
Bob’s sales pitch: I think you’ll enjoy what’s currently playing on CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide: “5 IT management practices certain to kill IT productivity.”
I’m including it in the sales pitch section because it’s always helpful for my CIO.com’s editors to see that my articles there are generating lotsa clicks. Which is me hinting that you should encourage your friends to read it too.
And oh, by the way … what’s in it for you is that if you’re in IT management it’s worth paying attention to.