Most organizations have perfunctory mission and vision statements that are boilerplate feel-good statements for the annual report rather than working documents that give purpose to their employees. Even when firms mean to use them well, the statements are so vague and elaborate as to be meaningless, such that employees pay them no heed.
A proper and functional statement clearly communicates the goals of the organization to stakeholders (employees and partners as well as investors) and inspires employees in particular to take meaningful action. Few companies approach them in this manner.
Each of these three items has a specific purpose:
- The Mission – Declares “this is what we do” so that stakeholders understand the purpose and values of the firm
- The Vision – Declares “where we are going” so that stakeholders understand how present activities lead to achieving a future state
- The Strategy – Declares “how we will get there” and provides specific objectives to pursue and actions to take
The mission statement must be clear and succinct, rather than vague and aspirational. It indicates the service or product the company provides and the market they serve, and generally justifies the reason the firm exists in the present day. A mission statement does not disclose the desires of the company, but describes it as it presently is, and givens guidance for the actions to be taken today to maintain it such as it is.
The vision statement is futuristic, and as such is subject to aspiration and vagueness – but that is ideally kept to a minimum. It communicates in specific and memorable terms a vision of the future, and it need not be one that can actually be achieved. For example, one organization’s vision was to “put a computer on every desk in America” – which was preposterous at one time, and is still not strictly true, but it is not so farfetched.
The strategy is the bridge between mission and vision, and tends to be less poetic and more practical – it indicates the actions that need to be taken to get from present state to future state, beginning with high level goals that will take many years to achieve (a computer on every desk) and drilling down into the details it will take to get there (design a model that is useful and affordable to the blue-collar household). It is likened to a roadmap that shows the destination, then the general direction from here to there, then the highways, then each turn and gas station along the way.