Companies run into trouble when there is confusion between a mission statement and a vision statement. While every company should have both, they are not interchangeable.
Organizations from vast corporations to very small businesses benefit from putting in the effort to carefully craft mission and vision statements, so it’s important to understand how to direct that effort.
What is a Mission Statement?
A mission statement is a compass guiding an organization’s decisions, direction, and values. More than anything else, it is a clear, concise explanation of why a company exists.
These documents are for both the members of a company or organization as well as potential clients, investors, and the public. They are often prominently displayed on company websites and in marketing material.
Mission statements differ in length and complexity, but the best ones incorporate purpose, methods, scope, and company values. They synopsize what a business intends to do and how they intend to do it.
Why Companies Use Mission Statements
An organization uses a mission statement to guide decision-making, hiring, planning, and strategizing. Many companies also use them to define company culture and norms, contributions to the community, and engagement of employees in the larger goals of the organization.
Having a common set of ideals is a powerful way for organizations to keep everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction during day-to-day operations.
Companies also use mission statements to guide the behavior and ethics of their organizations. Maintaining the integrity and reputation of a brand or company is made much easier when policies can be drafted directly from a foundational document.
An often overlooked use of a mission statement focuses outward. Company customers, potential investors, and the public all have a chance to see why a company exists and how it intends to operate. It serves as a promise to the greater community.
What is a Vision Statement?
A vision statement is a document that looks to the future. It isn’t concerned about the details, it’s looking less concretely at what a company hopes to become and achieve.
Visions statements are hopes and dreams put down on paper. They are usually written by business owners or founders and are intended for employees. They aren’t promises to be presented to investors or customers.
A company vision sets a tone and should be ambitious without being unattainable. A company whose vision statement overreaches risks organizational disarray as team members struggle with realistic goals in the shadow of an unrealistic vision.
Visions statements are not about this year or next year, they’re about decades from the present. Some are concerned only with the business while others focus on long-term societal benefits to which the company hopes to contribute.
Vision statements can be concise and simple or they can be multi-faceted and contain many different levels of visions for the future of a company. Either way, they are meant to inspire.
Why Companies Use Vision Statements
A good vision statement allows everyone in the organization to look forward and imagine the impact of decisions made today on the company of the future. It isn’t about daily operations but affects decisions and long-term planning.
A vision statement is something that inspires and motivates employees at all levels to strive toward a positive future. It guides behaviors and attitudes that help the organization work toward its long-term goals.
Ambitious, aspirational vision statements can be used to keep organizations from becoming complacent or afraid of change. Leaders will use the vision of the company to guide their high-level planning and decision-making.
Companies also use vision statements to set expectations. Managers and leaders can be sure that employees are aware of the company vision and understand their roles in achieving those long-term goals.
Mission Statement Vs. Vision Statement: Key Differences
- While a mission statement talks about what a company does and who they are, a vision statement talks about what and who a company wants to be in the future. Mission statements are operational, vision statements are aspirational.
- A mission statement tells the world why the business exists, a vision statement tells company members what the company hopes to become. This is a key difference between the two. Mission statements are for everyone, vision statements are the hopes and dreams of the people working at the company.
- Mission statements tend to remain relatively static, with adjustments made when conditions require. Vision statements can be much more fluid, adjusted based on the societal landscape or as organizations learn and grow and expand or contract their aspirations.
- A good mission statement covers why the business exists, how it operates, and general company values. A good vision statement fuses those elements and transforms them into an inspirational, motivational, aspirational view of the future.
Mission Statement vs Vision Statement: Examples
One of the best ways to see the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement is to compare some examples for different types of businesses.
Acme Manufacturing creates the highest quality aluminum widgets in the automotive industry. Our factory exceeds federal safety and environmental standards and our employees are trained on-site. We are committed to donating 5% of our profits to local charitable organizations.
Our vision is to bring safe, environmentally sustainable industry back to American towns and cities, creating stable jobs and investing in vibrant, thriving communities.
This company has set parameters for current practices that set the foundation for its socially inspired aspiration.
Company Two—Service Provider
Service Provider uses the finest equipment and latest technology to clean residential and commercial carpet. Our skilled technicians come to you and quickly and quietly remove stains and other dirt from wall-to-wall carpets and area rugs. Our company believes in investing in cutting-edge technology, extensive employee training, and environmentally sustainable practices that protect our employees and our planet.
We strive to provide world-class cleaning solutions for homeowners and businesses in a way that protects the environment and eliminates germs and pathogens. Cleaner, safer, healthier indoor spaces are on the horizon.
The service provider needs to appeal directly to their customers. They’ve chosen to emphasize health and safety to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Company Three—Small Business Retail
At SBR we bring the natural world to you with our outdoors-inspired candles, soaps, and body lotions. We use natural ingredients and make our products in small batches by hand. We believe that nature inspires creativity and that the love and care we put into our products inspires our customers.
We will inspire the appreciation of both hand-crafted goods and the natural world through high-quality products sold all over the country.
Small businesses can have narrower missions and visions.
Tips for Writing Mission and Vision Statements
There are as many ways to craft mission and vision statements as there are organizations that need them. There isn’t a right way and a wrong way, but there are things companies can do to make the process more efficient and the results more useful.
Organizational leadership in whatever form that takes for an individual company should collaborate on both statements. Making the process a group effort brings together ideas and allows everyone in a leadership role to be heard.
There should be, and usually is in any company, one person who makes the final decisions and keeps the group on track.
Choose The Right Time
Mission statements, being documents that are designed to be shared with the outside world, are best written early in the life of the organization. A company that has a statement online and on the front doors the day they open is ahead of the pack.
Because vision statements are internal and aspirational, there’s more leeway. It may take a while for a company to get a good feel for where they want to be a decade or more down the line.
Some companies choose to write both statements at the same time, allowing the free flow of ideas to form both.
Remember that These Are Living Documents
It’s important to remember that although mission statements tend to stay fairly static over time, both they and vision statements are going to change and morph.
Companies should never be afraid to adjust a mission that turns out to be impractical or incomplete or a vision that becomes obsolete or untenable.
Always consider incorporating company values into both mission and vision statements. Though not strictly necessary from a practical point of view, leaders sitting together and discussing company culture and values is a powerful way to define an organization.
Company values shape every aspect of an organization from daily operating procedures to dreams for the future. Agreeing on what they are and putting them in writing makes them far more tangible and actionable.
Putting together company mission and vision statements can feel overwhelming. But the process of sharing ideas and defining company goals and dreams gives organizations a blueprint for both the present and the future.