Mission describes what you are and vision describes what you want to be. Both of these should be clear and concise statements focused on clearly communicating to the organization’s various stakeholders.
Organizations sometimes have long, convoluted statement that mix values, mission, and vision. Or they write statements that are so general that it’s impossible to determine what they actually are or do. There is little value to a statement such as “Be the worldwide leader in excellence” or “Exceed our customers’ expectations.” Both mission and vision statements need to be specific and unambiguous.
The mission statement describes why the organization exists. It should be written from the perspective of speaking especially to prospective customers and should answer the following questions:
- What do we do?
- How do we do it?
- For whom do we do it?
- Where do we do it?
Most often a mission statement is a single sentence, certainly not more than 2 or 3 sentences. Think of the mission statement as the elevator speech for the organization – if you had 15-30 seconds to explain what your organization is or does, what would you want to say? Another way to think of mission statement is what you might put on a sign in front of your building to invite prospective customers – not an advertising slogan, by the way, but a descriptive statement.
Where the mission statement describes the current state of the organization, the vision statement describes the desired future state. Where the mission statement speaks primarily to the prospective customer, the vision statement often speaks primarily to the organization’s employees.
The vision statement describes the aspirations of the organization, what it hopes to be in 5 or 10 years. It must be clear and concise but also inspirational as it must engage the employees and draw them into the development of the organization towards the long-term vision. The vision statement serves as a guideline for the organization’s long-term decisions.
Both the mission and the vision statements communicate to the various stakeholders of employees, customers, community, and investors although it is not necessary to publish both of them to all of these audiences. Both must be clear, concise, and unambiguous. Together with the values and principles, the mission and vision set the tone for the goals and objectives and the organization’s strategy. In a previous article we described a management system that translates mission into action plans. The next article in this series will define objectives and goals and their importance in motivating the organization.