How to Write Brilliant Mission and Vision Statements
I was inspired to write this after having spent a good month thinking hard about my company’s brand summary. By some happy coincidence, I also found myself studying a module - as part of a CMI qualification I am working towards - with a section all about mission and vision statements. I wanted to put together a short summary of what I’ve learned in the last few months.
Mission, vision… What’s the difference?
In short, a vision statement is about the effect you want your business to have on some community that you serve. A vision statement isn’t really about your company!
Meanwhile, a mission statement describes the purpose of your business - its raison d’être. It should make it obvious why your company is different from all your competitors. Unlike your business plan or marketing strategy, which should always be open to development, your mission statement should be designed to endure indefinitely.
There is in fact a wide genre of “mission statements” and “vision statements” with different purposes, structures and contents. Some have said mission statements serve as a statement of strategy, while others say the company’s identity should be enshrined within it. I prefer the tradition of those who place purpose at the heart of the definition of a mission statement since it is best suited to providing direction and facilitating action.
Why have them at all?
There are a plethora of good reasons to have mission and vision statements. Here are the two I think are the most important.
1) A focussed strategy
good mission and vision statements should make defining, implementing and evaluating a strategy easier. It should be the foundation upon which all else is built. After all, if you aren’t sure what the purpose of the business is, how could you reliably do a good job set goals and devise strategies to reach those goals? As a result, your mission statement will play a central part in helping you decide how to do everything from allocating your resources to motivating your team.
2) Happier, engaged people
A sense of being on a mission to achieve a vision to which you relate makes you happier, more engaged and more likely to stay. It’s been shown that the more connected employees feel to a company’s mission, the better they are likely to perform. Feeling connected to the mission has been demonstrated to correlate to higher job satisfaction, better employee engagement, higher employee retention and higher supervisor ratings.
Writing vision statements: big, bold and emotive
Your vision statement should burst with ambition. It will be the very heart of your company, so inject every bit of imagination and passion into it!
Remember, vision statements aren’t about your company - they’re about the difference you can make to the community you serve. I think these ones are great:
Alzheimer’s Association: A world without Alzheimer’s disease
Ford: Democratize the automobile
Disney: To make people happy
Wikipedia: A world in which every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge
Oxfam: A just world without poverty
Short. Snappy. Memorable.
Writing mission statements: How our company gets us there
The professional and academic worlds both have plenty of varied opinions on how mission statements should look. Academic thinker Pearce identified eight particular things which he thought ought to feature: your customers, products or services, markets, basic tech, economic goals, philosophy, key strengths and public image.
I think that’s all a bit boring. This is a statement that is supposed to send people on a mission, not send them to sleep! I’m not a fan of these highly structured, “tick-box exercise” mission statements. There’s a place for this stuff, but it isn’t in your mission statement.
Instead, I favour the approach advocated by Richard Branson, which he neatly sums up in the title of a short article he wrote in 2013 entitled “More Mission, Less Statement”.
If you can’t get it into an old-style 140-character Tweet, it is too long.
Here are a few I really like.
Google: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
Intuit: To improve its customers’ financial lives so profoundly, they couldn’t imagine going back to the old way.
Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
LinkedIn: To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.
TED: Spread ideas.
Here’s a short exerpt from Branson’s article I just have to share:
“Most mission statements are full of trite truisms and are anything but inspirational. A company’s employees don’t really need to be told that “the mission of XYZ Widgets is to make the best widgets in the world while providing excellent service.” As opposed to what? Making the worst widgets and offering the lousiest service? Such statements show that management lacks imagination, and perhaps in some cases, direction.”
How to go about creating them?
If we make the task as simple as putting pen to paper, we’re asking for failure! Here are a few really important things we should all be doing. After all, professionals and academics all seem to agree that no mission or vision statement is better than a bad one.
1) Get people together
From the executive team to employees, as many people as possible should have their say - perhaps even an expert from outside the business. People will likely have different opinions, and this step is all about revealing different views and navigating through them in order to reach a consensus. Apart from anything else, involving people will ultimately make them more committed.
2) Evaluate your first efforts
It’s all well and good having a mission and statement, but if they aren’t well-written, we’ve all wasted our time! Not only do they need to be readable, clear and concise, but they should also inspire. Both statements should be emotive! What do you want people to feel when they read it? Optimistic? A sense of commitment? An assertiveness or competitiveness? Inspired and proud? After you’ve drafted them, ask yourselves these questions. If your statements aren’t emotive, start again.
3) Check they could genuinely help decision-making
Before sharing the mission statement, have a quick think about whether it can truly help managers throughout the organisation make decisions or recommendations. A good mission statement should help with this stuff! This was pointed out by Daniel Cochran et al in this paper, and I agree this is really important. What’s the point of having one if it doesn’t help determine what actions to take?
4) Create a strategy for sharing your final statements!
Finally, they must be shared effectively! This is often the part that gets forgotten. Numerous academics have cautioned that the exercise is largely pointless unless the team are actively educated on what the mission statement is and how it should inform what they do, and that this is typically the part of the process management is weakest at.
Defining a vision and a mission is just the beginning. The next thing many executives consider is their businesses’ values, target markets or brand identity - but it can and should all be underpinned by your vision and mission.
I’d love to hear your ideas on this too, so let me know what you think on Twitter!
Software Engineer | Growth Hacker | Digital Marketer