Vision statements come in two varieties. One type describes what you want your business to become at some distant date in the future. The other describes what you want your company to be known for.
Whichever type of statement you choose, your mission statement then lays out what you are doing currently and in the foreseeable future to carry the vision forward.
Mission statements should answer four key questions found later on this page. Two real-life case studies are offered to provide examples of mission statements written according to this formula.
Author: Mike Armour
Values, Vision, Mission — How to Get Them Right
Part 4 of a Four-Part Tutorial
Developing Your Vision and Mission Statements
There is frequent confusion about vision statements and mission statements. Even major corporations sometimes use the two concepts interchangeably. Other companies word their vision statement in a manner more akin to the way our model would have you state your mission.
In spite of these common failures to delineate between vision and mission, maintaining a distinction between them is vital in the planning model that we advocate. How, then, would we distinguish vision and mission statements from each other?
A simple way to see the distinction is to note the difference between a person with a vision and a person on a mission.
- A person with a vision has a view of the future and what it will look like. But he may develop the vision without immediately having a plan to achieve it.
- A person on a mission, on the other hand, is focused on a plan of action to accomplish what he has set out to do.
Vision statements and mission statements maintain this same distinction. The vision is a picture of a desired result years into the future. How many years? There’s no fixed rule. The time period should be no less than five years. But it may stretch out even decades into the future.
As an example, one non-profit organization devoted to Alzheimer’s research has as its vision, "A world free of Alzheimer’s." Even with the promising advances made against this disease, this vision is not likely to be fulfilled until well after today’s leadership in the organization has passed from the scene.
Types of Visions
Vision statements come in two varieties.
- Many, like the vision statement of the non-profit above, lay out what the organization wants to achieve.
- Others paint a picture of what the organization wants to become or what it wants to be known for. An example is Google’s vision statement: "We organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful."
Here are some other notable vision statements from companies and organizations you know:
- Amazon: To be the earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
- Save the Children: A world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development, and participation.
- Kraft Foods: Helping people around the world eat and live better.
- Toyota North America: To be the most successful and respected car company in America.
- Cleveland Clinic: To be the world's leader in patient experience, clinical outcomes, research, and education.
- Avon: To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service, and self-fulfillment needs of women globally.
Vision statements do not characteristically address the question of how the vision will be achieved. They leave that to the mission statement.
More About Vision Statements
We have already mentioned two major characteristics of vision statements: they peer far into the future and they are more about where we want to go or what we want to become than about how we will get there. Here are other considerations to think about when creating vision statements.
- Good vision statements should appeal to the heart. They should lay out a future that is so important or so compelling that everyone in the organization embraces it eagerly. Ideally people across the organization will develop a deep passion to achieve the destiny spelled out in the vision statement. Put simply, vision statements should be inspirational.
- When properly crafted and utilized, vision statements strengthen the organization’s culture by giving it a unifying purpose, a cause around which everything else aligns. Vision gives meaning to the sacrifice that the organization asks of its people. That’s why the vision needs to be compelling.
- Because they clarify "the big picture," vision statements help management and workers make better decisions, resolve conflicting priorities, and overcome self-serving or self-protective agendas which often pit one functional area against another.
- By their very nature vision statements should also be "envisionable." When people read the vision statement, they should be able to picture a world in which the vision has become reality.
Vision gives meaning to the sacrifice that the organization asks of its people.
Extraordinary Vision Statements
Two of the most powerful vision statements of the twentieth century came from Henry Ford, who developed the assembly line, and American President John F. Kennedy.
Ford’s vision was to build a reliable automobile that was so affordable that every working man could have one in his garage. Ironically, at the time that he announced this vision, virtually no homes had garages. But Ford envisioned a day when people would want his product so much that they would add garages in which to park his venerable Model T Fords, the first mass-produced vehicle for the common man.
Kennedy’s words that stirred the world were, "We propose to send a man to the moon and return him safely back to earth within this decade." Strikingly, 80% of the technology that was required to accomplish this feat did not even exist when Kennedy spoke these words.
No less ambitious was Microsoft’s original vision: "a computer on every desk." In 2007, having seen this vision substantively achieved, Microsoft announced that its new vision would be to "create experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of Internet services across a world of devices." To make this vision more "envisionable" and succinct, it was later shortened to "empower people through great software anytime, anyplace, and on any device."
More About Mission Statements
Vision statements define a future, desired state for the organization in terms of what the organization seeks to achieve or become. Mission statements define the present state and the commitments of the organization which serve to further the vision. Mission statements describe what the organization is doing now and will do over the next two or three years to move closer to fulfillment of the vision.
Using the parameters laid out in the mission statement, action plans then define the milestones by which the transition will be made from the present state to the desired state.
Mission statements describe what is being done currently and in the foreseeable future to move the vision forward.
A mission statement should be worded in broad, general terms (although not so broad as the vision statement) and should not be more than one or two sentences long.
Mission statements become the framework within which we structure specific action plans, intermediate and long-term goals, and milestones to reach these goals.
In effect, a mission statement sets forth the rationale for the things that the organization does and the manner in which it does them. Mission statements usually address four key questions:
- What services or products do we provide?
- How do we go about providing these services and products?
- Who makes up our primary target market?
- In what way are our services or products distinctive?
Here is a comparison of a vision statement and a mission statement from McDonalds.
Vision: To be the world’s best quick service restaurant experience.
Mission: To provide the fast-food customer food prepared in the same high-quality manner world-wide that is tasty, reasonably-priced, and delivered consistently in a low-key decor and friendly atmosphere.
Notice how the mission statement supports the vision statement. And also note how the mission statement answers the four key questions:
What services or products do we provide? We provide food that is tasty and reasonably priced.
How do we go about providing these services and products? Our food is prepared everywhere in the same high-quality manner and served in a low-key decor and friendly atmosphere.
Who makes up our primary target market? Fast-food customers worldwide.
In what way are our services or products distinctive? Our product quality is consistent anywhere in the world.
To offer another example, let's look at the mission statement for Startups After 50:
Using a web-based platform, we provide comprehensive resources for starting, growing, and maintaining a thriving small business. We tailor our resources to the unique needs of men and women who start their first business in their 50s or later, perhaps with no prior business experience.
Now let's apply the four questions to this statement.
What services or products do we provide? We provide comprehensive resources for starting, growing, and maintaining a thriving small business.
How do we go about providing these services and products? We use a web-based platform.
Who makes up our primary target market? Men and women in their 50s or later — encore entrepreneurs — who are starting their first business.
In what way are our services or products distinctive? They are tailored to the unique needs of encore entrepreneurs who may have no prior business experience at all.
Other Resources for Developing Vision and Mission Statements
If you need further inspiration on crafting a vision or mission statement, you might spend some time at www.missionstatements.com. Here you can peruse the mission statements of Fortune 500 and Inc 500 companies. But be forewarned! On this site you will see abundant evidence of the confusion about vision and mission statements, even among large global companies. In this compilation you will find dozens of examples of what companies describe as their vision statement, when by our definition it's a mission statement.