Mission? Vision? Why Bother!?

We are often confused, not entirely sure of the difference, if any, between Mission and Vision. Some of us have a mission statement, some of us have a vision statement, some of us have both. There are also some among us who don’t believe in having either. Sometimes what amounts to a mission statement is used to describe vision, and sometimes what amounts to a vision statement is defined as a mission.

How do we clear up the real difference between the two? Does it even need clearing up? In answer to this second question, yes – we should clear up the difference. The purpose and use of each element in forming the foundation of who you are as a corporate entity differ in very real and important ways. Whether you use the terms mission and vision really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know how each can help you, and how in-turn, to put each to use in daily business decision-making.

The Difference Between Mission and Vision

Let’s start with vision. Vision statements should explain what you will be doing in the future. Vision statements often focus on the “we will” of your organization. For example, you could say in your vision that “we will be the largest provider of consumer loans in our market.” You could also say that “we will be the main source of financial services and advice for the hispanic market.” These two statements are visionary – if they cannot be used to describe who you are now.

Vision should never describe what you do in today’s terms. Why? Because vision should give you a sense of direction, serving as a point of inspiration for all of your key stakeholders.

A great example of vision is one credited to Sony Corporation. While I’m sure there may be a bit of mythology now associated with this example, it nonetheless serves to showcase the long-term future direction and focus of vision. Here it is:

“We will create products that are pervasive around the world … We will be the first Japanese company to go into the American market and distribute directly … We will succeed with innovations like the transistor radio that American companies have failed at … Fifty years from now, our brand-name will be as well known as any on Earth … “Made in Japan” will mean something fine, not shoddy.”

Back in the 1950s when this vision was supposedly created, there was no great american fondness for Japan or for the products the country exported. Furthermore, none of the elements in this statement were true at the time it was created. That is why this was a visionary statement. It was the corporate equivalent of a parent lifting the chin of a child, changing that child’s focus from the ground to the horizon.

Now to mission. Mission is the tool to describe your day-to-day focus and can include numerous components. Points made in a mission statement define for key stakeholders the experience they will have when they interact with the various parts of the organization. The main purpose of mission is to provide an operational link to vision. If all employees live the mission, then the attainment of vision is more likely to happen. As opposed to the “we will” descriptions used in vision, descriptions in mission are more of a “we do.”

For a good example of a mission, let’s use the hispanic market leader focus we referenced earlier. If the vision is to be the go-to institution for this demographic, then your mission might include the following:

  • We constantly look for ways to tie our brand closer to the hispanic community;
  • We deliver education designed to help members of the hispanic community trust our advice, products and services;
  • We welcome members and new members alike, encouraging them to ask questions and talk openly with our branch and call center staff.
  • We engage in community discussion groups to better tailor product design to our demographic needs.

This is a short list, but it serves to show how mission differs from vision. In this mission, employees can find daily direction that, if followed, will help guide the entire organization toward the vision. Mission offers “here and now” directives that are applicable to any job function.

Bring the Pieces Together

A very interesting question institutions often ask is, “why do we have so much turnover.” In groping for an answer, managers often point out components such as salary and work schedules as a key reason people leave. They will tell you that pay isn’t competitive enough, or the hours aren’t convenient. That may be true in some cases, but I look at the enjoyment people seem to get in some of the low-paying service jobs in other sectors. I’ve met hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people across the country working long hours in jobs they love for little money. Why do they do that?

I believe that a key reason is that they have found purpose in what they do. They are working for something bigger than the simple day-to-day – they have inspiration, a cause, they are yearning to see satisfied. That driver is vision. When people have vision, when they can see a future, it becomes a motivator in and of itself. Even better, when they see how what they do each and every day contributes to the greater good (again – the vision), then they find purpose and enjoyment in even the most mundane of tasks.

Vision, and a corresponding mission, are not magic pills. You will not automatically zoom to the top in growth and profitability simply by creating a vision and mission. But you will move one step forward in bringing everyone in your organization together, from board to consumer, all fighting for the same inspired future.

Vision and mission are tools, effective tools, and institutions failing to use these tools for the purpose intended leave themselves at a competitive disadvantage, operationally fragmented with an uninspired workforce and possibly an apathetic consumer base.

Fortunately for us all there are a number a great examples, both in and out of the industry, that showcase awesome vision and mission. Seek them out, learn from the best, and apply the lesson for the benefit of your own key stakeholders.

1 comment

  1. Awesome. I better understand how vision and mission can bring an organization “from board to consumer” together to fight “for the same inspired future”. I love it.

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