Strategic Planning
Mission - Vision - Values
By Bill Birnbaum, CMC
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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 answer…

Mission Statement

Your Mission Statement describes what business you’re 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. That’s 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 you’re 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.

Here’s 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 process industries.”

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 the 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 company’s “market position” - the reason why customers would prefer to buy products and services from the company. Specifically, the company’s products are “for use in harsh or unusual environments.”

Vision Statement

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; it’s up to us to tell them what to feel passionate about.” That’s 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,” doesn’t 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 wasn’t then an Apple on every desk. In fact, there won’t ever be an Apple on every desk. That’s OK. The vision can be figurative, rather than literal.

It’s 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 that’s 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.” That’s because your company’s 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 organization.

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? That’s really a question of value.

This article is adapted from Bill Birnbaum's book, Strategic Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle

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