I have worked in many organisations that didn't have Vision and Mission statements or had poorly constructed ones. It takes a lot of effort to create, communicate and integrate Vision and Mission statements into an organisation, but when done right, there are subtle and powerful benefits.
How can a company benefit from having good vision and mission statements? Well constructed, communicated and integrated Vision and Mission statements can help align and focus an organisation. They define in clear, precise and inspiring terms an organisation's reason for existing (Mission) and where it is going (Vision), helping to drive success now and in the future.
Let's explore deeper what the benefits of well-constructed Vision and Mission Statements are and why those benefits may exist. By understanding what we can achieve with excellent Vision and Mission statements, we will be better able to recognise good Vision and Mission statements, as well as create our own.
Benefits of Vision and Mission Statements
A Vision Statement describes the future state that an organisation is working towards achieving. Vision is the long term goal of an organisation. What long term means depends on the context. For a typical organisation, a Vision may be looking ten years ahead, but for larger firms, or ones that are pursuing more ambitious ends, their Vision maybe twenty, thirty or more years in the future.
A Mission statement describes the organisation's purpose or its high-level business strategy. A Mission statement should answer the following questions clearly with laser focus:
- What does the organisation do?
- For who does the organisation do it?
- How does the organisation do what it does?
Vision and Mission Statements have no power unless they are shared. If the Vision and Mission statements resonate only with the authors, then they will not be very effective at guiding and driving the organisation. Creating the Vision and Mission statements is done from the ground up or the top down or both. Once created, the Vision and Mission must be communicated, integrated and adopted by all parts of the organisation.
Vision and Mission statements are successful if anyone in the organisation can recall them upon request and does so with a hint of pride. Then the Vision and Mission can yield benefits like:
1. Guide the Thinking and Actions of Employees
When people are about to invest a lot of time and energy into an endeavour, they want to know they are doing "the right thing". They want to know their actions will not generate criticism and hopefully garner praise.
If there are clear Vision and Mission statements, the whole organisation has adopted them, and the employee has correctly interpreted them, then an employee can ask "Will this action be in alignment with our Mission? Will this action get us closer to our Vision?"
Having a reliable way for someone in an organisation to internally validate their thinking and actions means they can focus more of their time on moving the organisation forward rather than worrying about justifying the soundness of what they are doing.
2. Help Determine and Inform Performance Standards
Like guiding thinking and actions of employees, strong Vision and Mission statements will make it much easier to construct transparent and consistent performance standards and measurements. One can ask "What behaviours do we want to encourage/discourage that would bring us in alignment with our Mission and closer to our Vision?"
Not only can performance tools be aligned to the Vision and Mission, but the performance tools can be used to help align the organisation.
3. Help Attract Appropriate Talent
Clear and easily understood Vision and Mission statements help with hiring in several ways. Making the Vision and Mission not only public but also communicating them to candidates means that some candidates will select themselves out because they know the organisation would not be a good fit for them.
Since performance standards align with the Vision and Mission, then we know what behaviours, characteristics and skills are needed to help fulfil the Mission and achieve the Vision. When conducting interviews, interviewers can use the information to guide their questioning and assessment of candidates.
4. Provide Context and Reduce Friction During Organisational Restructures
Organisational Restructures and major reallocations of resources can be very stressful. However, if the restructure aligns with the Vision and Mission, it can help give some context to the restructure.
When people understand why the change has to happen, and they can see how that change would improve the organisation, then they are going to be more accepting even if it might cause some personal grief.
5. Provide a Stable Framework that can Outlast Internal Changes
Creating a crisp and inspiring Mission and Vision and then weaving it into the fabric of an organisation is hard. But when the Vision and Mission are an integral part of the organisation they give the company strength and direction well after those who helped create it are gone.
A charismatic leader or founder may leave, or C level management may change, but the company continues from strength to strength. The Vision and Mission providing an almost spiritual leadership that can help ensure the actual leaders that take over following in the footsteps of those who came before them.
6. Inspire People to be Focused and Productive
The Vision and Mission need to be inspiring. They need to resonate with everyone in the organisation. They need to help provide meaning and purpose. Therefore Vision and Mission can't just be about increasing revenue because that doesn't motivate someone doing their shift in Customer Service.
Once a Vision and Mission have sparked inspiration with the individual, the team and the organisation, then they operate in a state of focus. Being focused allows an individual and an organisation to channel their energy and creativity into a single and concentrated direction, the Vision and Mission. It is the difference between trying to push a blunt pencil versus a sharp pencil through a sheet of paper.
7. Facilitate Collaboration with Teams, Customers, Suppliers and Partners
When teams in an organisation have a common Vision and Mission, they can look beyond internal politics and KPIs and can collaborate. Helping you may cost me, but it brings us closer to our Vision and Mission.
When the Vision and Mission are crisp and inspiring, beyond just those in the organisation, then customers, suppliers and partners can feel part of something special too. Customers know why they use your services. Partners know why they collaborate with you rather than a competitor and Suppliers feel proud that their product or service can help you achieve your Vision and Mission.
8. Help with Public Relations
Since Vision and Mission help define an organisation's identity, then it makes sense that the Vision and Mission are an important part of a company's Public Relations strategy. Who we are, what we do, and why we do it are enshrined in the Vision and Mission, and that is also what we want to communicate to the outside world.
Since the company arranges itself around the Vision and Mission, aligning the company's brand and communications with the Vision and Mission means that there will be consistency between what happens inside and what is communicated outside. Keeping the company and its public image in sync gives its public persona greater gravitas.
Importance of (Shared) Vision
Kouzes and Posner say that the second characteristic people look for in a leader, after honesty, is vision. They point out that generally you are encouraged not to think too far ahead, but as you move up in leadership roles, you need to look further and further ahead:
|Team Leader||current project|
|Leader of Teams||two years plus|
But for a vision to be effective, it must be inspiring, and for it to be inspiring it must resonate with everyone in the organisation. Kouzes and Posner point out:
Yes, leaders must ask, "What's new? What's next? What's better?"—but they can't present answers that are only theirs. Constituents want visions of the future that reflect their own aspirations.
So whether the Vision and Mission statements are arrived at by a series of workshops with everyone in the organisation contributing, or senior managers craft them at an off-site, they need to appeal to everyone in the organisation. Kouzes and Posner go on to state:
The only visions that take hold are shared visions—and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs.
What comes first Mission or Vision? The Mission is what an organisation is or wants to be now (within two years). The Vision is what an organisation wants to be in the future. You can start with either. Create a Vision and then work back to a Mission, or define a Mission and thought experiment where that leads (Vision).
How long should a Vision or Mission statement be? Vision and Mission statements should be as short as possible. They need to be understood and easily remembered by everyone in the organisation. Two to three clear and precise sentences each is a good rule of thumb.
'Vision and Mission: Unleashing the power of vision and mission.', Jennell Evans, https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/smartwork/201004/vision-and-mission
'To Lead, Create a Shared Vision', James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner, https://hbr.org/2009/01/to-lead-create-a-shared-vision
'Mission and Vision Statements', Bain, https://www.bain.com/insights/management-tools-mission-and-vision-statements
'The Mission, Vision, and Values statements', 365 Careers, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wem6FZAucw
'Google’s Mission Statement and Vision Statement (An Analysis)', Andrew Thompson, http://panmore.com/google-vision-statement-mission-statement