Can a New Mission Statement Really Drive Culture Changes?


Key Board Takeaways

  • When crafting the actual mission statement, seek quality over quantity. Keep the message concise and make every word count. Carefully select words and phrases that will be meaningful and easy to remember.
  • Use surveys, focus groups, electronic suggestion box portals, town halls, and other means to provide input from all levels of the organization. Consider inviting patients or members of your community to participate.
  • Keep stakeholders informed using emails and in-person and huddle-type meetings regarding decisions that are being made, and how these translate and apply to the strategic, operations, and department plans that follow.
  • Recognize and reward decisions, actions, and problem-solving examples of mission-in-action choices made by associates that have a positive impact on patient and family experience and outcomes.

Does your organization’s mission statement make a difference in how people in your hospital or health system (from board members to senior leaders, physicians/clinicians, other staff, and community members) perceive their roles, responsibilities, and relationship to the patients and communities you serve? Many organizations are realizing that their mission statements are dated and less relevant in today’s circumstances. These hospitals and health systems are involving stakeholders at every level to assess, review, revamp, and rewrite their mission statements to bring them current and make them more relevant and relatable to current organizational and social concerns.

This article describes how Kaweah Health, a health system in Visalia, CA, used a mission statement assessment to kick off its strategic planning process, and unexpectedly transformed the organization’s culture as a result.

Using an Organization-wide Input and Assessment Process

In 2018, Kaweah Health implemented an updated strategic planning process when new strategy leadership joined the organization. A key element of the planning process was to assess the relevance of a decades-old mission statement.

With the assistance of an outside consultant, a series of facilitated focus groups were held to discuss the organization’s mission, vision, and core strategies. Focus groups were formed from selected representatives from a broad range of key stakeholder groups including:

  • Board members (publicly elected)
  • Senior executive and physician leadership
  • Medical/clinical staff
  • Employees from all levels and departments
  • Community members

Key findings from the focus groups resulted in essential and enlightening input including:

  • Recommendations for the mission and vision statements. (The existing mission and vision statements, which had not been updated in nearly two decades, were felt to be too long, no longer completely relevant, and did not inspire or motivate associates, medical staff, and other key stakeholders.)
  • Strengths and weaknesses of the organization
  • Growth opportunities
  • Opportunities to improve physician engagement and alignment
  • What it would take to make Kaweah Health a “top 100 place to work”
  • Top strategic priorities

From Input and Information to Actionable Insight

After the information gathering stage, a planning retreat was organized to process and discuss the findings to deduct relevance, implications, and conclusions. Feedback from the focus groups was shared with about 30 selected individuals who attended the full-day strategic planning session. Participants were asked to review the feedback beforehand and to complete pre-retreat work, including the selection of:

  • Mission statement examples and drafts that capture the essence of the organization’s fundamental purpose for existing
  • Items and characteristics that represent what the organization should aspire to become
  • Key strategic priorities and critical success factors

Revised, Concise, Relevant Mission and Vision Statement Drafts

Outcomes of the facilitated retreat included new, concise mission and vision statements:

Mission Statement
Health is our passion. Excellence is our focus. Compassion is our promise.

Vision Statement
To be your world-class health care choice, for life.

Every word of each statement was examined thoroughly and selected very carefully. For example:

  • “World-class” was heavily debated: How is it measured? Is it realistic? In the end, it was decided that it should be the organization’s aspiration to become world-class in the services that it provides. World-class was defined as top-decile performance.
  • “Choice” was selected because the organization had long had a reputation as a local provider of necessity, and one of the goals was to change that and become a provider of choice.
  • “Life” was selected to reflect a full continuum of services and was consistent with a branding tagline that previously had been in use, “More than Medicine. Life.”

Moving from Goals to Pillars

The organization’s four long-term “goals” were expanded to five and renamed “pillars” to better reflect their foundational role in the organization’s mission and vision. The five organizational strategic initiatives are:

  1. Achieve outstanding health outcomes
  2. Deliver excellent service
  3. Provide an ideal work environment
  4. Empower through education
  5. Maintain financial strength

Giving the Mission, Vision, and Strategic Plan Ultra-Visibility

The new mission and vision statements have become engrained in the Kaweah Health organization. A one-page strategic framework was developed that captures the mission, vision, pillars, and key initiatives. This high-level summary of the organization’s strategic plan has been printed on 11×17 pages and distributed throughout the health system and are now found in board meetings, executive team meetings, and on department bulletin boards. In addition:

  • The mission and vision statements are printed on all employee badges.
  • The mission statement is prominently posted in all lobbies in large 12-inch-tall vinyl lettering.
  • The mission statement is hanging in all conference rooms.
  • Posters and plaques containing the mission, vision, and pillars hang in conference rooms, break rooms, offices, and lobbies throughout the organization.
  • During executive rounding, employees often quote the mission statement from memory.

During executive team and board discussions, the mission statement is often used as a litmus test for decisions. For example, when discussing the organization’s visitor policy during COVID-19 and its variants, the executive team developed a policy that protected health, followed best practices (excellence), and was compassionate towards patients and their families. This policy provided a guide and standards to follow resulting in consistency, fairness, and safety for patients, families, and staff.

The Kaweah Health mission statement is often included in social media and marketing content, and frequently being read aloud by employees and physicians. The mission statement also appears in PowerPoint templates. These practices provide consistency in messaging, brand identity, and visibility in communications with internal and external audiences.

A Mission Statement Making a Difference in Culture

The new mission and vision statements for Kaweah Health have evolved and grown into something that was not anticipated at the outset of the assessment and revision process. The buy-in and enthusiasm for the new statements has been a result of participation and input from a broad base of stakeholders including board members, senior leadership (executive and physician), department leaders, and associates at every level.

Because of the buy-in and commitment that exists, the rollout and adoption of the strategic plan has been broad-based, meaningful, and extraordinary. Exposure to the mission and vision statements begins with employee orientation and is consistently reinforced in department, town hall, board, and other meetings across the organization.

Results That Matter

In today’s changing environment, mission statements are more important than ever in representing publicly and internally the fundamental purpose of the organization as well as guiding how it will act regarding clinical care delivery, providing equal access, and addressing diversity, social determinants of health, environmental, economic, and social issues, as well as other community concerns.

The Kaweah Health experience is an example of how inclusive participation in developing the mission, vision, and strategic plan of the organization can create a culture of unity in purpose, passion for engagement, and focus on achieving common desired organizational outcomes. Is it time to consider an update for your mission statement?

Marc Mertz and Guy Masters, “Can a New Mission Statement Really Drive Culture Changes?,” E-Briefings, The Governance Institute, March 2022.