SSA adrift on its mission statement

HMS finds SSA mission statement inconsistent, and ferry service acknowledges it needs to be clarified.

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The Steamship Authority has a new administration building, but no clear mission statement.

The Steamship Authority lacks a “consistent” mission statement easily seen by its employees and the public, HMS Consulting noted in its recent report. HMS states “high visibility” of a “common mission statement at all levels of the organization ensures the entire team is working toward the same end.”

While a few statements have been penned over the years, none are presently deemed suitable by HMS Consulting or its client, the SSA.

HMS notes the first extant example of a mission statement for the SSA is found in its enabling act: “In order to provide adequate transportation of persons and necessaries of life for the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the authority is hereby authorized and empowered to purchase, construct, maintain, and operate necessary vessels, docks, wharves, other vessels, equipment, furniture, and supplies, and to issue its revenue bonds payable solely from revenues, or funds as hereinafter authorized in section nine of this act.”

HMS reports this statement “is not publicly advertised throughout the organization, and does not provide an inspiring direction by which employees at all levels can rally.”

On the History and Organization page of the SSA website, HMS points to another statement: “The Steamship Authority’s statutory mission is to serve as the ‘Lifeline to the Islands’ for everyone from year-round residents, who depend on the ferries for all commerce and transportation to and from the mainland, to a significant seasonal population, to the tourists who visit for a day, a week, or longer.”

HMS describes the statement as flawed because “it doesn’t actually contain a complete mission statement identifying how [the statutory mission] is accomplished, what value is provided, or what the organization strives for.”

HMS outlined the “clear and impactful” benefits for those who “develop, embrace, and frequently reference” a mission statement as “a common direction,” ”focus of the company’s future (commonly referred to as ‘Vision’),” and “establishment of priorities and aid for decision-making at all levels,” among several other advantages.

When asked to produce its mission statement by The Times, the SSA unearthed a company-wide memo from former general manager Armand Tiberio, dated Dec. 31, 1997. Within the memo, Tiberio quotes a “shared vision” taken from an unknown source, according to SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll, who said the SSA cannot find its archives the rest of the text Tiberio quoted from. The quote, which the SSA deems a mission statement, reads as follows: “to provide excellent customer services through a safe, convenient and efficient transportation system while responding to changing needs and market demands as well as community concerns within a work environment that promotes quality performance and recognition of our employees.”

Driscoll said Tiberio’s memo and the statement contained in it weren’t provided to HMS Consulting because the document was discovered in January, after HMS had completed the majority of its report. Initially it was a mystery what the missing language of the statement was, but through a bit of research, Driscoll was able to locate the same text inside the 1999 SSA annual report, where the whole statement or “vision” was printed against a photographic background. The missing language at the start of the statement reads: “The vision of the Steamship Authority …”

Yet neither that statement nor the ones highlighted by HMS have passed muster.

“We readily admit we don’t have a working mission statement right now,” Driscoll said.

HMS points out the lack of a mission statement makes the SSA an outlier.

“A well-crafted, advertised, and frequently revisited mission statement that provides a common goal, combined with measurable performance objectives, provides numerous benefits to any organization,” the report states. “Public and private ferry systems, including near-monopolies similar to the SSA that are not influenced by the same competitive environment as most, have established mission statements and employ performance objectives. Examples include Washington State Ferries and the Delaware River and Bridge Authority (Cape May–Lewes Ferry). Typically, these mission statements are simple and to the point, communicating a common direction to the employees, leadership, and the public.”

Driscoll said upcoming workshops with HMS meant to aid in the implementation of recommendations in its report will likely include mission statement work of some sort. However, he doubts a new mission statement will be minted in the workshops, only a path toward developing one. He expects later staff input plus “copious public input” will forge the new mission statement.