Do You Confuse Vision and Mission?

Whenever I work with a group regarding strategic planning, I find the wordsvision-mission vision and mission often need definition. Perhaps some of the confusion comes from faith-based organizations using the word mission to mean what a commercial organization often calls vision. Simply put, vision is a description of how your organization expects to improve the welfare of your customers and community and mission describes how you will progress toward the vision in the short term. Let us address the two terms in detail:

Vision: The Internet has made it possible for every enterprise and individual to capture a global audience if they have a message the world finds interesting. The vision is a succinct, compelling statement describing who will benefit from the existence of this operation and how. It is the “punchline” for why people should buy from you, invest in you, and work for you. The focus is on how you want the world to perceive what your organization will become. Visions are supposed to be a bit hazy. This is because they ideally deal with qualities and character more than tangible actions. My suggestions for vision statements are:

  • Remember words of appreciation you have received from customers and integrate exactly what they appreciated in the statement
  • Prepare a list of three to five descriptors that you would like people to use in remembering your organization. Think about how they fit into your vision.
  • Include all of the relevant characters in the vision (i.e. customers, employees, surrounding community, etc.)
  • Use visual, metaphorical language and try to keep it under 25 words if possible
  • If your statement proclaims the organization to be a leader or “#1”, be sure it is evident how the world will come to that conclusion

Mission: The mission statement highlights the few areas of focus in the current planning period. Mission statements leave no doubt on what will be done and the result to be achieved. My suggestions for mission statements are:

  • Vital missions target innovation and change. Remember that customers just assume you deliver quality products and services and do not need to embark on a mission to do so.
  • Focus the organization on the critical goals and results to be achieved
  • State how the organization will be held accountable. Include measures, priorities, completion dates, and who will lead the mission
  • Mission goals should be realistic and supported by describing investment of talent and capital to involved parties.
  • Review mission progress on at least a quarterly basis

This is how I introduce these key concepts. For a leader or executive, these two elements are the most important part of a strategy. Please share your comments on best practices for vision and mission.

It All Starts with a Plan

In a difficult times, it is natural for organizations to focus more closely on achieving revenue requirements and critical objectives and to place business planning on the “back burner.” If these reactive periods continue over an extended period of time, inefficiencies and missed opportunities can ensue; not to mention exhaustion. Taking a few hours with your team to compare the business plan to current market conditions permits necessary correction to the plan and reinvigorates morale. The plan review can uncover insights, such as:

  • Changes in the competitive landscape
  • Opportunities to extend offerings by integrating complementary products and value-added services
  • Identify investments that can improve competitiveness, responsiveness to customers, or profitability

Taking your eye off the strategic issues can move an organization from challenging times to challenges that may be difficult to recover from.

The previous comments assume an organization has a business plan. Small business leaders often operate without a formal written plan. While many business leaders are skilled enough to steer the business without a formal plan, these leaders are forfeiting opportunities to engage their employees with a planning process. Diminished employee engagement will weaken management systems and hinder initiative.

The key elements of a strategic plan are:

  • A Five-Year (or longer) Vision for the Business
  • Market Trends and Competitive Analysis
  • Strengths and Weaknesses of the Business (as perceived by the customer)
  • Market Opportunities and Threats
  • Growth Strategies (including organization measures and objectives)
  • Specific, Measurable Action Plans

The Action Plan is the most critical piece of the plan. These plans align employee efforts, reflect progress, and move accountability to the lowest level possible in the organization.

As the year wraps up, take a minute to understand why you achieved your level of results and discuss with your organization the best plan forward.