Understanding the Difference Between a Vision Statement and a Mission Statement

Difference Between a Vision Statement and a Mission Statement
Difference Between a Vision Statement and a Mission Statement
Difference Between a Vision Statement and a Mission Statement

Understanding the Difference Between a Vision Statement and a Mission Statement

Imagine a hiker. He has been enjoying his hike but, at a certain point, the terrain looks unfamiliar. He is not sure in which direction he should continue. As he rummages through his backpack looking for his compass, he suddenly remembers that he forgot to grab it from the kitchen counter. So, now he is in the middle of the woods without direction. The hiker panics. Now, it is likely that each decision he makes will not be based upon sound reasoning, but out of fear and anxiety. This is not the way to hike, and it is not the way to lead a company towards achieving its goals and fulfilling its mission and vision.

The most effective way to ensure that a company stays on course is to have a plan. One way to create a plan is to create BOTH a mission statement and a vision statement. Many confuse the two and even more have neither. This blog defines each and offers concrete steps for crafting both.

What Is a Mission Statement?

A mission statement clarifies how a company will reach its ultimate goal. It defines the purpose and primary objectives related to doing business in a particular industry. Well-written mission statements answer the following three questions:

  1. What do we do today?
  2. For whom do we do it?
  3. What is the benefit?

If the answers to these questions are not relevant, clear, or concise, the mission statement has already failed. Minda Zetlin, in her article The 9 Worst Mission Statements of All Time, shares an example of MGM Resorts mission statement: "MGM Resorts International is the leader in entertainment & hospitality – a diverse collection of extraordinary people, distinctive brands and best in class destinations." Zetlin observes that although this is meant to be MGM Resorts mission statement, “it's just a flattering self-description.”

In Lindsay Kolowich’s article, 12 Truly Inspiring Company Vision and Mission Statement Examples, she shares an example of a well-crafted mission statement from the company Patagonia: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Mission statements are tools to ensure that all decisions reflect the nature, narrative and function of a company including creating new processes and all operational activities. The mission statement should be the compass by which all business sections in a company follow.

What Is a Vision Statement?

Well-executed vision statements differ from mission statements in that they are “short phrases or sentences that convey a company’s hopes for the future. By developing a vision statement, a company clarifies their beliefs and governing principles, first for themselves, and then for the greater community.” It is easy to mistake a mission statement for a vision statement. An easy way to remember the difference is that the mission statement is more concrete, action-oriented and about the present. The vision statement is an aspirational declaration of what the company would like to achieve in both the near and distant future. Well-written vision statements should:

  1. Be shared with all – employees, management, stakeholders, and clients/customers
  2. Project 5 to 10 years into the future
  3. Include emotive language to inspire and uplift those who read it
  4. Be an easy message to communicate - short enough to put on a bumper sticker or T-shirt

Here is an example of a well-conceived vision statement from Chevron:

“At the heart of The Chevron Way is our vision… to be the global energy company most admired for its people, partnership, and performance.”

Vision statements also exist as a tool to ensure that companies stay on track in terms of their larger purpose. It is easy to lose sight of the “bigger picture” when bogged down with the day-to-day tasks of running a company. The vision statement serves as a reminder that all efforts made are supporting a much larger goal.

Where to Start?

Writing mission and vision statements are not easy tasks. Doing so requires thought, clarity and sense of purpose. As company leaders work to create fitting mission and vision statements, it may be helpful for them to answer the following questions:

  • What are the strengths and limitations of the company?
  • What are the company values?
  • What are the best-practices used in daily operations?
  • Where does the company see itself in the future?
  • What are the main objectives for achieving the company’s vision

In summary, vision and mission statements serve several purposes from those previously mentioned. They also “draw people to common work, give hope for a better future, and provide a basis for developing the other aspects of action planning processes such as the company’s mission, objectives, strategies, and action plans.”

Just as hikers have compasses to orient them, when companies have mission and vision statements the path becomes clearer, the goals more reachable, and the view inspiring!