When dealing with issues of strategic leadership and strategy development mission and vision becomes both first and foremost… But what is the difference, which one first and how do you determine them?
The difference between vision and mission, to my mind, is one of the most confused and misunderstood concepts in any strategy formulation process. Even in fortune 500 companies, one finds missions that should actually be visions and vice versa… In fact, it is often hard to distinguish between the two statements in many companies. If you ask for an explanation on the difference, some senior executive will most probably tell you that vision is where we want to go and mission is how we will get there. With all respect, this conclusion makes absolutely no sense. Firstly, if mission is how we achieve vision, then what is strategy? Secondly, if mission moves us from a current to some desired state then mission should change quite often, yet some of the oldest and most powerful organisations in the world have missions that never change!
This perplexity most probably originated in our early endeavours to control the world with militant action. Armies had mission. This was a project-based concept which aims to conquer, kill and return home. Thus the aim was to achieve a state of ‘mission completed’. As we entered the industrial age, we started companies and corporations. We stole the ‘mission’ concept from our militant past, but unlike our military operations, we do not want our organisations to end. Thus, we created vision; that which cannot end… As we currently go far beyond the information age, the nature of mission and vision has dramatically changed in meaning and application. Maybe the right terminology would rather be ‘statement of purpose’ and ‘statement of desire’…
I believe that those who aim to create a direct relationship between mission and vision cause much of the above confusion. In this article, I intend to convince that mission and vision has no direct cause and effect relationship, but rather that they imply an inverse relationship that directs two very important dimensions within any organised system. These being to stabilise and to change. With this I advocate hat mission authorises processes whilst vision energises strategy. Mission brings stability and order whereas vision creates strategy and brings change and renewal to the system. Respectively, the first empowers and the latter influences. Mission directs processes and is primarily a managerial function. Vision on the other hand, creates strategy and is primarily a leadership function. Ultimately any organised system will attempt to increase relevance of its mission whilst focusing change initiatives that will make its vision irrelevant… The one implies processes-based and the other project-based activity. E.g. if I want to lose 10kg of weight (my vision) and I do so (vision now irrelevant) then my change initiative becomes a maintenance function. Thus a once-off, non-repetitive project became a cyclic process.
· Authorises the organisation.
· Ignites processes.
· Contains risk.
· Brings order to chaos.
· Is evolutionary in nature.
· Should not change, and if it does, change should be slow and gradual.
· Aims to become more relevant.
· Energises the organisation.
· Creates strategy.
· Creates risk.
· Brings chaos to order.
· Has revolutionary nature.
· New or changed vision implies strategic effectiveness.
· Aims to become irrelevant.
Questions asked to determine Mission:
Questions asked to determine Vision:
· What is our purpose?
· Why is this our purpose?
· What makes our purpose relevant?
· What must we do to manifest this purpose?
· Where must we do this?
· For whom do we do this?
· Where do we want to be?
· Why are we not there yet?
· What if…?
· What if we go somewhere else?
· In which ways are we different?
· When will what we currently do become irrelevant?
As mentioned above, a mission statement should give clear purpose and must direct process efficiency. To me this is the test of strong mission. To avoid confusion, a mission statement should not create a future desire. E.g. “To provide…” or “Being the…” indicates future desired action. A good mission statement implies immediate responsibility for an already existing state. E.g. “We provide…” or “At ABC we are the…”
10 excellent mission statements:
1. “At Microsoft, we work to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. This is our mission. Everything we do reflects this mission and the values that make it possible.” (Microsoft)
2. “We provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States.” (ASPCA)
3. “We work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth.” (Heifer International)
4. “We fulfil dreams through the experience of motorcycling, by providing to motorcyclists and to the general public an expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in selected market segments.” (Harley-Davidson, Inc.)
5. "We bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." (Nike)
6. “People love our clothes and trust our company. We will market the most appealing and widely worn casual clothing in the world. We will clothe the world.” (Laidlaw International Levi Strauss & Co)
7. “We help all people live healthy lives.” (Becton, Dickinson and Company)
8. “Our purpose is to create superior value for our customers, employees, communities and investors through the production, conversion, delivery and sale of energy and energy services.” (Duke Energy Corporation)
9. “We provide our policyholders with as near perfect protection, as near perfect service as is humanly possible and to do so at the lowest possible cost.” (Erie Insurance Group)
10. “Graybar is the vital link in the supply chain, adding value with efficient and cost-effective service and solutions for our customers and our suppliers.” (Graybar Electric Company)
A vision statement, on the other hand, should create uncertainty and initiate strategy to eliminate such uncertainty. Therefore, vision constructs desire, thus immediately creating a gap between current and desired reality. Finding ways to close such gap is called strategy and effectively closing such gap is called strategy execution. Unlike mission, vision implies a future state that is not yet achieved…
10 excellent vision statements:
1. “A computer on every desk and in every home; all running Microsoft software.” (Microsoft)
2. “That the United States is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.” (ASPCA)
3. “A hunger-free America” (Feeding America)
4. “Equality for everyone.” (Human Rights Campaign)
5. “To be the number one athletic company in the world.” (Nike)
6. “Our vision is to be 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." (Amazon)
7. “Amnesty International's vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.” (Amnesty International)
8. "The happiest place on Earth." (Disneyland)
9. "People Fly for Free." (Ryanair)
10. “To provide access to the world’s information in one click.” (Google)
One last dilemma that we must work with is which one first? To me this is no chicken or egg situation. No organised system can exist without purpose. It is mission that gives birth to any system. We cannot determine where we want to go if we have no idea who we are… It is, however, common practice in marketing documents to put vision first. This is so since a vision is ‘sexy’; it creates desire and presents the external world with dynamic perception. Yet, the fact that it’s written first does not imply that it was conceived first… The power of vision is dependent on the amount of change needed. Mission can only cease where purpose has become irrelevant. As leaders come and go, visions will be born and will die. But, as long as any organised system evolves and survives, mission will stand strong. There can be no vision without mission!
In conclusion, the difference between mission and vision is not important; it is vitally crucial… In my Strategic Leadership Master Class we thoroughly unpack the nature and methodology of developing vision and mission at executive level…
© 10 April 2015
© 2015 Derek Hendrikz Consulting