Interchangeably using “Mission” and “Vision” can unintentionally create confusion, as Mission and Vision should be distinct, mutually reinforcing ideas that catalyze your organization to achieve its unique purpose.
Mission is the compelling reason your organization exists. It is the motivating “why” the organization does what it does. When your staff wakes up in the morning they should be able to recall your mission statement and it should motivate your staff to see how their individual role connects with the overall purpose of the company. A great mission should be able to endure over the long run as your company grows and changes.
Vision on the other hand, is a destination, a preferred and tangible picture of the future. For most organizations, it is best to talk of a “2 year vision” or a “5 year vision” where that preferred tangible picture of the future is spelled out so as everyone can picture where the organization is going, what it will look like when it gets there, and what must be done to achieve that vision.
While leaders want their organization’s mission statement to be truly inspiring and lofty, Patrick Lencioni wisely cautions “When you think about the purpose of an organization, just be shy of ‘to make the world a better place’.” Directionally, a mission statement should certainly be in range of making the world a better place, but your organization has a unique contribution in making the world a better place, and that needs to be captured in your mission statement. Some great examples of Mission Statements that show how these organizations are making the world a better place in their own unique way include:
- Sonos: “Stream all the music on earth, wirelessly in any room.”
- Google: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
- Amazon: “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company where people can find and discover anything they want to buy online.”
- Zappos: “To provide the best customer service possible.”
- Gallup: “Helping people be heard”
- The Ritz Carlton Motto: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” This motto exemplifies the anticipatory service provided by all staff members.
Great mission statements need to be short, compelling, memorable and portable – that is, everyone in your organization should be able to internalize the statement, believe in the mission, and be able to repeat it to others when asked. My favorite mission statement from the above list is the Gallup statement: “Helping people be heard.” I can picture someone who’s role is crunching thousands or even millions of pieces of data; if that person only viewed their role as crunching data then that’s not very motivating, whereas Gallup’s mission statement allows this person to connect their role to the bigger purpose of ‘helping people be heard’ – that’s motivating! It must have taken a lot of work to get this statement down to such a concise length, but the shorter and more memorable and compelling, the better.
In my opinion “vision” statements should not be made public (at least for small to medium sized companies) and only used internally to guide the organization as it plans and executes moving into the future. For most organizations making clear internally say a 2-year vision would include specifying revenue, headcount, lines of business, types of customers that the company will have in 2 years from now. It is extremely helpful for your staff to know what the 2 to 5 year picture of where the organization is heading, as such future clarity informs everyone of what must change in the coming years.
For some organizations, particularly larger organizations, it can make sense to articulate both mission and vision statements, as the Southwest Airlines statements illustrates:
- “purpose” (mission) statement: Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel.
- vision statement: To become the World’s Most Loved, Most Flown, and Most Profitable Airline.
Southwest Airlines mission statement is short, compelling, memorable and portable. Their vision statement is actually more tangible than it first appears, as each of the three components of the vision statement can be measured and evaluated, while also painting a tangible preferred picture of the future. But they illustrate well that mission (purpose) statements “why”, and vision statements answer “where” the organization is going. Southwest’s statements above also are distinct from each other in that the purpose statement refers to ongoing activity, and the vision statement refers to a future state they are striving toward, thereby mutually reinforcing one another.
Mission therefore is the compelling “why” your organization exists, and should not change over time. Vision is “where” your organization is headed over a defined period of time, and generally changes every few years as you recast vision out into the future. “What” your organization does are the products or services it produces – therefore, ensure your mission statement doesn’t just say “what” the organization does. The “how” is the strategy your organization must adopt to achieve your mission and vision. Leaders must ensure everyone is crystal clear on their organization’s why, where, what and how.
How well have you clarified the difference between your company’s mission & vision?
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About the Author
Tom Barrett is a Nashville-based leadership team coach who utilizes proven processes including Scaling Up and the ValueBuilder System™ to help entrepreneurs get what they want from their business.