A fast and slow method for crafting vision and mission statements.
Historically, the term vision originates from spiritual or supernatural encounters in religion that give an insight into future events. In the Bible, several characters experience visions. Whether used in Buddhism, Judaism, or Christianity, visions have always allowed people to foresee the future and find meaning. They give insight into what is yet to happen and let people define their purpose.
Having personally engaged with more than 400 organizations over the past decade, one thing that always bothered me in most of my engagement is whenever I encountered issues related to incongruence on vision and mission (more on that issue and how to overcome it later). In all engagements when such incongruence exist, we find that whenever we interview stakeholders on strategic goals and objectives, there would be no alignment.
When I tried to look for a book or a reference manual on this subject to recommend to my clients, I couldn’t find any, so I wrote a book and a primer on the subject that I now share with my clients. Since then, I’ve refined the process, simplified it, and condensed it here into this short article, which I think you’ll find useful.
The term mission also has religious connotations. When a religious person is sent to carry out humanitarian work, they are said to be on a mission. In fact, these individuals are called missionaries. If a vision gives someone purpose, a mission is an assignment that sends someone on their way to fulfill that purpose.
Having a purpose in life guides decisions, influences behavior, shapes goals, offers a sense of direction and creates meaning. Having a purpose is essential to a healthy life. In fact, behavioral scientist Clay Routledge says feelings of meaninglessness are a leading cause of depression and suicide.
Just like having a purpose is essential in your physical life, it is no different for the life of your organization. Having a clear raison d’être, or reason for being is central to a successful company’s operations. Vision and mission statements provide just that.
Vision and mission statements are an organization’s basis for strategic goals and objectives that move its strategy forward. They ultimately set the key indicators for measuring business health and determine how employees are evaluated and monitored. An organization’s vision and mission also create a work environment where everyone knows what they’re doing and eliminates the feeling of confusion and the dreaded trait of disorganization.
Vision and mission statements are often confused with catchy slogans and are sometimes belittled as fluff. However, when structured properly, vision and mission statements are inspirational messages that capture the essence of a business’s strategic goals and objectives. As such, a unified vision and mission should align every stakeholder–inside and outside–of an organization around a single purpose.
If your life’s purpose and very raison d’être are defined by your goals, why should your business’ purpose be any different? A business’s vision and mission statements make a guiding compass central to business unity, strategy, performance, culture, and much more. Without them, a business would find it challenging to establish strategic goals.
Whether you are a solopreneur with a small business, a manager at a medium-sized organization, or the CEO of a large enterprise, you must have a clear set of strategic goals and objectives for your company. As you progress, your strategic objectives and goals may change along the way, but your vision should remain the same. Those goals come from the vision you set out for the business.
The “Vision and Mission Statements” tool is among one the most popular management tools. It has been in use for decades by companies of all sizes in all sectors.
In business, a vision statement explains what a company aspires to be and the goals it wishes to accomplish. It formulates an organization’s core ideology, the purpose of existence, guiding principles, and a direction for how it will develop over time.
Vision and mission statements are the starting point for a company’s strategic direction, organization, business, and operating model. A company’s vision and mission set it apart from others and are central to business processes, unity, strategy, performance, culture, and much more.
Once set, vision and mission statements provide the guiding principles for strategic direction, goals, and objectives. They align everyone, from stakeholders to employees, towards a common goal. Achieving alignment and unity at each level sets the standards for performance evaluation, thereby achieving a healthy and desirable work culture.
The Building Blocks
To achieve their purpose, any vision, mission, and other aspirational statements should target four audiences: leaders, customers, employees, and business owners. These audiences are targeted with varying emphasis, combining four key building blocks that shape that statement.
- Strategic direction and goals: Those taking the lead in an organization work together to determine how it will reach its goals, build trust, and maintain alignment.
- Identity: How others view your organization is important. Your aspiration statements should help internal and external stakeholders hold a positive view of your company.
- Priorities & Challenges: Outline your priorities and describe the challenges you may have to overcome to achieve them. Assure your audiences that you will remain focused despite the hardships you may encounter.
- Culture: Describing your organization’s culture shows that you are interested not only in achieving your business goals but also in your employee’s workplace environment.
As you can see, these statements serve more purposes than a nicely written slogan. The ideas they convey are hard to communicate with a single message. Because of this, statements are frequently subject to different interpretations by different stakeholders. For aspirational statements to fulfill their purpose, businesses must periodically measure and ensure alignment across these four dimensions and the aspects that the vision and mission statements set out to achieve.
How to Quickly Craft Vision and Mission Statements
As discussed, the vision statement describes where you want your company to be in the future. Use the four questions in the image below when drafting a new vision statement. You may also use these same questions when running a survey to assess alignment.
In contrast to a vision statement that describes where you want to be in the future, a mission statement establishes how you intend to get there. The mission statement describes an organization’s future direction and is consistent with its values, goals, and objectives.
Use these steps to create a mission statement:
- Start with the vision, which describes what the organization needs to accomplish, what products and services it will (or intends to) provide, and what significant contribution it expects to make (e.g., “…designing, building, marketing, and servicing…”)
- Identify the measurement that shows your company’s progress (e.g., “We preserve human life by providing food, water, and shelter, decreasing homelessness and starvation.”)
- Articulate the theme which describes how the organization intends to achieve its goals. The actions you take to reach your milestones will distinguish your organization from others by defending its unique characteristics (e.g., “…to enhance the tangible and enduring impact it is having on people and organizations.”)
Ultimately, your mission statement needs to fulfill the following criteria:
- Gives reason for organization’s existence
- Tells what the company is providing for society
- Define fundamental, unique purposes to differentiate from other firms
- Identifies the scope of operations in terms of products and market
- Expresses the company’s management philosophy and underlying values
Ask yourself these four questions when crafting the mission statement:
1. What should we be doing?
What is your ultimate goal? Again, your mission involves actions that will lead to achieving your objectives. Therefore, you can’t know what you need to be doing if you don’t know what you’re doing it for.
2. What should our results be?
This question reinforces your company’s purpose. What impact are you trying to make on the world? Your results should be evident to all four of your target audiences.
3. What standards should we use?
To answer this question, you need to think about your permission-to-play values, which are the standards you expect every person working in your company to uphold.
4. How should this benefit business owners?
Without your key stakeholders, you would have no company to run. Therefore, your mission should benefit not only you but also them. How can you show them that your purpose is not self-serving and that your company is positively impacting their society?
When we engage with client organizations, the first issue we frequently encounter is that stakeholders are not aligned with their objectives or vision, mission, and aspirational statements. For example, one survey found that only 29% of employees believe their leader’s vision was always aligned with the company’s (Murphy, 2020). Another 16% say their leader’s vision never or rarely matched the company’s. Without alignment on vision, leading an organization or team, no matter what size, would be like herding cats.
When a company faces misalignment, it’s likely not what it aspires to be. That is why you must assess alignment periodically and aim for as close to alignment as possible.
To ensure that alignment is perpetual, conduct periodic surveys to assess how the current vision aligns with stakeholders’ current and aspired state. In addition to the four building-block assessments, the survey may contain the same questions you would ask when drafting a vision or mission statement. Once the assessment is made, survey results can be visually overlaid to view how far apart alignment is and highlight problem areas, as shown in the charts below.
As we can see in the left chart, board members and shareholders align on everything except criteria 2. Executives are almost entirely misaligned with board members and shareholders but are aligned perfectly with employees.
The right table describes an organization’s brand identity. Audiences have a negative view of the company’s prestige and wellness, which needs to change.
Losing cohesiveness and alignment among stakeholders is much like having an orchestra with no conductor. The musicians won’t know whose lead to follow or how the symphony is meant to flow. Similarly, a business without a clear vision would leave its employees unsure of what steps to take. This may seem like a minuscule problem, but it isn’t. For example, a study about incongruence between mission and organization in the military proves that misalignment leads to decreased performance in timeliness, workload management, and total gain. The same is true for any type of organization, large or small.
Vision and mission statements unite your team and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal. It is important to craft these aspirations early on to keep all stakeholders on the same page. These statements also help motivate consumers to use your services and create a healthy workplace environment for your employees.
Whether you are crafting your first vision and mission statements or are reworking old ones, use the tips outlined in this article to create aspirations that will inspire and align your team toward the same purpose.
If you enjoyed this article and are looking for other tips and tricks to incorporate, check out my other articles:
Levchuk, G. M., Kleinman, D. L., Ruan, S., & Pattipati, K.R. (2005, January 1). Congruence of human organizations and missions: Theory versus data. Defense Technical Information Center. https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA440392.pdf
Murphy, M. (2020, August 28). A shocking number of leaders are not aligned with their companies’ visions. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2020/08/28/a-shocking-number-of-leaders-are-not-aligned-with-their-companies-visions/?sh=412d9f761acf
Rigby, D. & Bilodeau, B. (2018, April 5). Management tools and trends: Five key trends emerged from Bain’s survey of 1,268 managers. Bain & Company. https://www.bain.com/insights/management-tools-and-trends-2017/
Routledge, C. (2018, June 25). A crisis of meaninglessness is to blame for the rise in suicides. The Dallas Morning News. https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2018/06/25/a-crisis-of-meaninglessness-is-to-blame-for-the-rise-in-suicides/