Here’s an experiment you can try: Walk into a corporate office and find their mission statement hanging on a wall. Take note of its meanings, and then survey any five people you meet from that company. Ask them if they know their company’s mission.
Chances are you’ll hear either five different responses, or the ever-popular, “I don’t know.” Some people may even laugh at you.
It’s no small wonder the majority of employees scoff at mission statements. Usually what we see is fluff—overly vague generalizations that could apply to almost any company, and often they’re paragraphs long; too long to be recalled by anyone, and therefore, largely useless.
The problem is made worse when vision and mission statements are intermixed, further clouding their practicality.
At the core of this all-too-common problem is a simple lack of understanding. Ask those same five people you talked to earlier to define “vision” and “mission” and you’re likely to get an equally wide range of responses.
So, with the intention of making life more simple and companies more profitable, I offer an easy-to-remember way to create clearly understood—and useful—vision and mission statements.
Here are some definitions (and differences), in very simple terms:
Vision Statement: Where you “see” yourself being; where you want to go
Mission Statement: What you do to get there
In a more practical example:
Vision: Widget Manufacturing will be known worldwide as the highest quality widget producer.
Mission: Widget Manufacturing strives to:
Note that the vision is not what they do, but where they want to be. The mission statement outlines what Widget Manufacturing will do. The differences are clear, and quite simple.
Most of the time a company keeps its vision statement to itself, since where a company sees itself being is nobody else’s business. Besides, if the competition knew where you wanted to be, they could easily create a strategy that gets in your way. The purpose of a vision statement is to guide top leadership when making strategic decisions.
A mission statement clarifies what your company does. You want people to know what you do—both internally and externally. Internally, it keeps employees focused and it forms a basis for making tactical decisions. In other words, if two options for action are on the table, looking at them in light of the mission statement often helps in choosing a course of action that moves a company in the direction of its vision.
Externally, publishing your mission statement tells your clients what they can expect from you. Just knowing that provides them a sense of stability and security, and they’ll be more comfortable doing business with you.
Does a company need a vision and mission statement to function? Obviously not. The mere fact that so many companies survive without them answers that question. So what’s the benefit of having them?
Again, the answer is focus, flow, and a foundation for decisions. In other words, thriving instead of surviving. Aligning our efforts with an agreed-upon focus saves both time and frustration, and it makes a company much more profitable.
For example, much strife exists in companies due to no shared focus. When a company lacks a vision to which all subscribe, individual visions and missions tend to rise up and compete with each other. The result is conflict, delays, and lost revenues, all because of unnecessary turf wars consuming time and energy.
Creating a clear corporate vision minimizes big pet projects and helps point everyone in the same direction.
Your mission statement should be posted on a company website, on published literature, and throughout a company’s brick and mortar structures so people can see it, be reminded of it, and use it as a guideline for operations. Everyone from the top on down should be able to recite it from memory, and recite it often. If top management eats, drinks, and breathes the mission statement, everyone else will, too. If top management ignores it, so will everyone else.
Ideally, mission statements should not be more than one sentence long. A couple of bullet points (such as in the example given) are fine, but multiple paragraphs are not practical for keeping people focused, and are therefore ineffective. If you find your mission covers a lot of ground, find a way to boil it down; it can be done if you take the time.
Bottom line, vision and mission statements create clarity and form a basis for making both strategic and tactical decisions—all of which help a company thrive instead of survive. If thriving profitability is what you seek and your company vision and mission are unclear or non-existent, investing time to clarify these statements will help in getting the results you seek.