Vision and Mission: Just A Lot of Hot Air?!

If you are in the camp that vision and mission are just fancy consulting speak that have no real purpose in business, you are not alone.   Quite honestly, during years in private industry, managing large global teams, I had to create the direction for my teams for the future.  Did I call it a vision?  A mission?  No.  I thought these terms were just consulting mumbo jumbo that no one really understood! 

Now that I am consulting to organizations, I see the importance of these concepts for many organizations, but I am still not sure I am fully sold on the terms themselves and their definitions.  I think they are over complicated by many, and they really don’t need to be.

As a foundation for this discussion, here are a couple of definitions that I found:

  • The vision for an organization is defined as “an aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action.”
  • The mission for an organization is defined as “a written declaration of an organization's core purpose and focus that normally remains unchanged over time. Properly crafted mission statements (1) serve as filters to separate what is important from what is not, (2) clearly state which markets will be served and how, and (3) communicate a sense of intended direction to the entire organization.”

Putting the terminology and “official” definitions aside, let's look at what vision and mission within an organization really means.  Basically, they are referring to the bigger picture of why and what you are doing.  Why does this organization exist?  What does it want to achieve in its most broad terms?  It is really just setting the larger objective that everyone can hold on to as they work toward their goals in their day-to-day activities.

With this said, moving away from the terms “vision” and “mission” would surely be an uphill battle, so let’s leave those alone.  However, I do want to define both vision and mission in a manner that gets me more excited, while at the same time simplifying things a bit.  I want them to be more powerful and inclusive in their meaning to drive greater purpose and understanding to those within the organization that are working to achieve them.

So, here is how I would define vision and mission:

  • Vision is the greater good of what you are trying to achieve within your organization.  

To explain this a little further, for not-for-profit organizations, this is pretty straight forward – feed the hungry, cloth the poor, find a cure for cancer, etc.  For-profit companies need to think about this a little harder to determine the greater good that they provide to society.  For a bank, it could be to build communities, or, for hospitals, it could be to provide the highest level of individual-focused healthcare to ease the pain of people suffering from ailments.  

  • Mission is what the organization needs to do to accomplish the vision. It is the financial and operational requirements that have to be achieved to make the organization successful.  I see it as the link between the vision and the strategy (or more detailed goals of the organization).

Again, let’s look at a mission with the same examples that we used when explaining the vision.  For not-for-profit organizations, this could be the facilities required to feed the hungry, it could be the geographical area to cloth the poor, it could be the type of cancer that is being targeted to cure, etc.  For-profit companies, again, require a little more soul searching.  For a bank, it could be to provide financing services to small businesses, or, for hospitals, it could be to focus on the care of uninsured or underinsured people. 

Taking the time to define and communicate your vision and mission may sound like a waste of time, but more candidates than you think are looking at this as they think about employment; more specifically, this is critical to the millennial generation when deciding on a career.  As times change, we have to change with them; the value to society that your organization provides is important to your identity, your current employees and your future employees.

So take the time to think about, and define, your vision and mission and then get the word out!

Prism Partners International can facilitate the development of your vision, mission and strategy and deliver resulting action plans, including a comprehensive communication plan, to embed your vision, mission and strategy into your organization to motivate your employees to superior performance and results. Through our practical operational experience and innovative organizational alignment model, we can focus and align management actions and employee performance to achieve improved profitability.

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