Attendees of the American Management
Association's Strategic Planning course often ask me, “What’s the
difference between a mission statement and a vision statement?” Here’s my
Your Mission Statement describes what business youre
in and who your customer is. As such, it captures the very essence of your enterprise -
its relationship with its customer.
Developing your mission statement is the step which moves
your strategic planning process from the present to the future. Thats why, in the
figure, the arrow depicting the mission statement connects today with the
future. Your mission statement must work not only today but for
the intended life of your strategic plan of which your mission statement is a part. If
youre developing a five year strategic plan, for example, you develop a mission
statement which you believe will work for the next five years.
Focus is a primary benefit of your mission statement. It
should be broad enough to allow for the diversity (new products, new services, new
markets) you require of your business. And it will also be specific enough to provide the
focus necessary to the success of your business.
Heres an example of a mission statement:
Clayton Instruments Company designs and manufactures
highly reliable monitoring equipment for use in harsh or unusual environments within the
Note that this mission statement has both an internal
and an external dimension. Internally, it describes the products which the company offers:
highly reliable monitoring equipment. And it also lists the functions
company performs: design and manufacturing. The mission statement also
includes the necessary external dimension. It identifies the customer: the process
industries. And it cites the companys market position - the reason
why customers would prefer to buy products and services from the company. Specifically,
the companys products are for use in harsh or unusual environments.
Note the arrow (in the figure) which
depicts the vision statement. This arrow begins not at “today” but at some
point in the future. That’s because a vision is not true in the present, but
only in the future.
Your strategy team will need to develop a
compelling vision of the future. A vision which your employees will
enthusiastically embrace - because the vision is worthy, and because it
challenges them to grow. Let’s consider an example: that of a drive-up
window at a fast food restaurant. The vision might be one of
Saving time for busy people. See? A big vision! Providing direction for
employees. Some years ago, a client of ours remarked, Our employees are eager to
feel a sense of passion; its up to us to tell them what to feel passionate
about. Thats what the vision is all about.
In order for you to get your employees passionate about
your vision, it has to be compelling. It has to matter
not just to your management
team, but also to your employees. To triple sales revenue next year,
doesnt do it. For, who cares? Only a few. To make a difference to customers, to the
community, to the world. To improve the lives of human beings. That matters.
Your vision should project a compelling story about
the future. When Steve Jobs said, An Apple on every desk, well there
wasnt then an Apple on every desk. In fact, there wont ever be an Apple
on every desk. Thats OK. The vision can be figurative, rather than literal.
Its also important for management not just to speak
the vision, but also to live the vision. Apple Computer did this. Did you know that
the signatures of the entire design team of the original 128K Macintosh
were molded into the computer case? Now thats making employees
part of your living the vision.
Your team needs to decide how it will communicate its
vision to your employees. How to continue to nurture and support that vision every day, in
every way. How to empower employees to fulfill that vision.
Note one more thing about the figure. Both
the Mission Statement and Vision Statement reside in a sea of values.
Thats because your companys values influence everything.
For example, for any statement, whether mission or vision, to be
embraced and acted upon, it must reflect the values of your
Values describe what your management team really cares
about. What it holds dear. What makes em tick. How would your managers
respond to a trade-off between product quality and profit? Thats really a question
This article is adapted from Bill Birnbaum's book, Strategic Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle