A Practical View of Mission and Vision Statements
Vision and mission statements - considered by some a fundamental necessity for every organization,
while others view them jadedly as purely an academic exercise. So which is it and why such disparate
First, let's recognize that every organization needs a defining direction and objective to strive for. Few would disagree. Whether you call this a vision or mission is not as important as having a clear picture of the end in mind. As the saying goes, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there."
But we likely have all had bad experiences with ill conceived or improperly implemented vision and mission statements. Perhaps it was with the consultant who facilitated hours of group discussion on choosing the best language for the perfect vision statement, but spent little time on actually gaining consensus on a realistic direction. Or maybe it was a company's elegant mission statement espousing a companywide commitment to quality and customer service, while the employees and customers see the opposite in action on a daily basis.
Whatever the reason, the true purpose and value of a vision and mission statement, the difference between the two, and ultimate implementation in day-to-day activities seem to be lost on many organizations.
Vision and mission statements should clearly articulate why an organization exists, and include a brief explanation of the desired future state of an organization. Rather than using an academic definition, let's differentiate between the two by saying that a vision statement identifies where you want to go and the mission statement describes how you plan to get there.
For example: Vision Statement: "To be North America's leading manufacturer of widgets."
Mission Statement: "To develop the lightest and most reliable widgets in the automotive industry."
A vision statement tends to be more blue-sky and less measurable. Notice the term "leading" is not
exactly defined. Is it revenue, innovation, etc.? A mission statement is more specific and can be measured to track progress. “Lightest and most reliable” provides specific differentiators which are measurable compared to competitive offerings.
Common mistakes made by many organizations include:
• Not having a vision or mission statement - it's okay not to have both, but you should at least have a mission statement.
• Mission statements which are too vague. A mission must have specifics to help set direction and get all
stakeholders rowing in the same direction. It should also identify your competitive advantage: Why are you different? How will you position yourself to succeed in your industry?
• Too much time spent on finding the perfect language (words) and not enough time determining
what the organization is realistically capable of achieving. It's better to have a verbose, descriptive, and accurate mission than a short, catchy jingle - leave that for your advertising.
• Insufficient effort in implementing the mission into day-to-day activities. For a mission, and ultimately vision, to be attainable, it must be understood and embraced by the entire organization. It’s imperative that the mission provide a clear road map that stakeholders will refer to when making day-to-day decisions in terms of personal tasks and organizational priorities. And it must be seen that there is commitment at all levels, not just fancy words developed by the marketing department.
• Never adjusting. We can't predict the future. Heck, we can't even agree on the past! Vision and mission statements can be adjusted as a company matures and prospers.