Mission, Vision and Values: Weighing in on the Definition War

The other day during a continuing education class, the old argument came up again. “These are the kind of things that belong in a company’s Vision Statement,” the instructor said. “I thought they were Mission Statement kind of things,” replied a student. And off we went. What was Mission? What was Vision?

It started out in the 60’s with a shot across the bow from the B-school types. “No organization can succeed without a Mission Statement,” they intoned.

So we created Mission Statements. A lot of them (actually the majority) were generic. Most used the Chinese menu approach. Take one from column A (our quality,) and one from column B (our customers.) Add two side dishes (mandatory nods to our great employees and the community) and you have a Mission Statement.

We proudly promoted our generic and uninspiring mission statements. We put them on letterhead. We engraved them into plaques. We had then carved into the lintels above the front doors. And no one paid much attention to them.

“They are insufficiently inspiring!” said the B-school consultants. “Merely describing your mission isn’t enough. You need a Vision!”

So we looked farther over the horizon, and wrote new statements. Some of us threw out the Mission Statement, because now we had a superior Vision Statement. Some of us had a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement. Better yet, still others rewrote their Mission Statement to begin; “Our Vision is…” thus solving two problems with a single stroke.

Now, in the enlightened 2000’s, we discover that we still haven’t inspired our people to know what we stand for, what is right, or even to know what we do. We need a Values Statement to tell them our view of right and wrong.

Is the Mission the guiding principles of the organization, or is it the Vision? If the Vision is what you aspire to be, why do you also need a Mission? If either is your “big picture” of how you fit in the world, why would you need a Values Statement?

The truth is, any one of them is better than none, and one done well is worth far more than all three done poorly. If you want to cover all the bases, here’s how I see the definition of each.

The Mission Statement is what we are. It is intended for external readers, and is the statement that goes in your marketing literature. The Vision Statement is where we are going. It outlines the ambitions of the company, and is more oriented toward internal stakeholders. The Values Statement is how we behave along the way.It gives employees a framework to guide their day to day decisions.

So for Amalgamated Widgets inc. they would read something like this.

Our Mission
Amalgamated Widgets fabricates and distributes automotive, aviation and sports-related widgets worldwide to customers who will accept only the highest quality and assured on-time delivery.

Our Vision
The Vision of Amalgamated Widgets is to be the premier supplier of choice for OEM manufacturers in every market where we compete. By maintaining our commitment to research, cutting edge technology and a highly skilled workforce, we will consistently lead our industry in both innovation and profitability.

Our Values
Amalgamated Widgets expects each associate to place quality before expediency, dependability before convenience, and family before all.

The Mission Statement discusses the company’s differentiation and business focus. The Vision Statement focuses on competitive strategy, and the Values Statement talks about the commitment it takes to fulfill the vision and the mission.

Of course, someone out there will argue that I’ve got it all wrong. Your comments are welcomed.

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One Response to Mission, Vision and Values: Weighing in on the Definition War

  1. Rene says:

    As a business we have explored all of these as well …and most recently, like Monday revisited them. We mused about listing our values and principles on our website…and then there is part of us that says Actions speak louder than words…In the South it is popular to decribe someone and note that they are a "good christian". This always struck me as odd, in that if you have to proclaim it all the time, it must not be clear or in alignment with the persons actions. I think is is great to write all of this down and to reflect on it and review it for alignment but I am not so sure these statements aren't just glossed over by the public as propaganda/marketing machine …I will have to experience it for myself.

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