Vision and Mission

by Rus Slater

Vision versus mission

We could quite easily spend a lot of time agonising over the difference between a vision and a mission. Lots of people and organisations use the terms interchangeably and if, at the end of the day, you find something that suits you and your needs, then stick with it. For ease of reading this topic, however, we will use a slight differentiation:

A corporate Vision sets out where the organisation wants to be.

A corporate Mission Statement sets out what an organisation exists for; as such it should be

  • The very foundation on which the whole organisation stands
  • The guiding principle of everything that everyone at the organisation does
  • The yardstick by which all actions and omissions of the organisation are measured.

You may be wondering where Purpose and Values went, since Vision, Mission, Purpose and Values nearly always travel in a pack.

Values are the shared principles, standards, morals and ethics that drive the behaviours of the people in an organisation. Clearly it is ideal to have values in place that will help fulfil the mission and vision (see the topic on Values). And you will find Purpose under the section on Mission, because they are so similar and often used interchangeably.

Definitions

A Vision statement describes the desired future position of the organisation

A Mission statement defines an organisation’s ‘business’, its ‘purpose’, its current, or overall, objective and its approach to reaching this objective.

Elements of vision and mission statements are often combined to provide a single, defining statement of the organisation’s purpose and long term goals.

Confusingly, while the two terms are sometimes used separately, they are also often used interchangeably. Elsewhere in this topic, you will find some examples from around the world. As you will note, some organisations’ vision statements are remarkably similar to the mission statements of other organisations. In essence, whether you choose to call it a vision or a mission, or indeed both, it should be something that people can relate to and that sets them off in the intended direction.

Which comes first, vision or mission?

Given that some organisations successfully mix and match the two, there is probably no fixed answer to this question. However, JFK had a vision of putting a man on the moon:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.

President John F Kennedy, May 25, 1961

This vision spawned the missions that launched the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions and culminated in Kennedy’s dream becoming a reality on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong took a small step for himself and a giant leap for mankind.

In the more realistic scale of business and everyday life (let’s face it, none of us is going to spend US$9 billion at 1961 rates), there is probably a degree of iteration: we have a vision, which we then try to break down to create a mission and, if we find this too hard, we amend the vision to fit reality.

Perhaps what separates a great vision from a good vision is that ‘reach for the stars’ quality.