Clear and concise vision and mission statements are important pieces to ensure that everyone on your staff is motivated to focus on the critical activities needed to achieve your goals. The vision statement captures the organization’s passion and sets a big challenge. The mission statement lays out how to achieve the vision and tells everyone what they should and shouldn’t spend time pursuing.
“We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it.” ~Bob Dylan
That’s a line from my favorite Dylan song, “Visions of Johanna” from Blonde on Blonde. Too many organizations are sitting stranded in a rapidly changing marketplace. Rather than deny it, however, you need to put together a strategic plan to face the change head on and leave your competitors behind. Like most Dylan songs, the exact meaning of this one is a bit obscure and open to interpretation. But unlike the Nobel laureate, you can’t get away with letting your vision be obscure and open to interpretation. It has to be crystal clear to everyone who needs to know about it.
If you read the earlier articles in this series (links below), you’ve read about how to pull together the right people to help you build your plan, and you know at a high level what questions you’ll need to answer to get your plan in place. So now what?
Start by taking a look at your vision and mission statements. If you don’t have them, now is the time to create some great ones; if you do have them, consider updating them. These statements communicate to everyone what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. Think of your vision and mission statements like guardrails on a highway. Guardrails don’t drive the car for you, define how fast or slow you should go, or prevent you from making small mistakes, but they do keep you pointed in the right direction and prevent huge mistakes. Good vision and mission statements will keep you on the road to success.
A vision statement is your aspiration, an articulation of where you want to be five or 10 years from now. What problems are you trying to solve? What does success look like? It tells everyone what you want to achieve.
But isn’t it just a bunch of flowery words? Not if you do it right! A good vision statement defines the culture of your company and articulates the challenge. It defines the top of your activity chain; everything you do as an organization should be in support of fulfilling the vision.
A good vision statement is passionate and makes a personal connection with each of your employees, giving them a reason to work hard every day in pursuit of something they believe in. Your vision statement should be simple — one or two sentences that are clear, easy to understand, and easy to repeat.
Building a vision statement is a great time for creativity. It’s also serious stuff. For all the reasons above, the words in your vision statement need to be carefully crafted. Getting the broad concept together is a great activity for your big planning team. Brainstorm the vision and put the best concepts forward. When it comes time to hone it, I strongly recommend gathering a subgroup or having your best writer do a draft. Trying to put the exact wording together in a big group is almost impossible.
Here are two examples of really good vision statements:
AMAZON — To be the Earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
OXFAM — A just world without poverty. We envisage a world in which people can influence decisions that affect their lives, enjoy their rights, and assume their responsibilities — a world in which everyone is valued and treated equally.
Is it clear what each organization is striving to accomplish? If you worked for either organization, would you be inspired to come to work each day? I think the answer to both of those critical questions is yes.
Think about where you want to be in 10 years and get it on paper! What’s your company’s vision?
Where your vision statement was aspirational, your mission statement is focused on action. It supports the vision for sure, but instead of looking five to 10 years out, your mission defines what you should be doing right now. It tells everyone who needs to know “here’s what we do,” and very importantly it also says what you won’t do.
Too many times I’ve heard the complaint that mission statements limit what the company does and therefore miss out on great opportunities. There’s some truth to that, but by focusing on what’s important to fulfill the vision, a mission statement helps keep employees from wasting valuable time on non-value-adding activities or worse, allocating investment dollars toward projects that won’t help you reach your goals. Better to miss a couple of opportunities that don’t fulfill the vision than to waste valuable resources chasing the wrong things.
To craft your mission statement, answer four questions:
- What do we do (products and services)?
- How do we do it (sales and distribution channels)?
- For whom do we do it (customers and markets)?
- What value do we bring (what differentiates you from everyone else)?
Brainstorm the answers to those questions in your large planning group. If you want to engage your whole staff, send a survey to everyone asking for answers to the questions. Get all the ideas up on a wall, start grouping them together into common themes, and winnow them down until you have a strong answer to each question.
Wordsmithing the mission statement as a group is likely to be unproductive. If you want the whole team to participate, ask members to individually craft a statement — or do it in very small teams, then share the results with all to select the best wording from each. This is also a good time to assign the wording task to a smaller group who can come back to the larger team with proposed language. Remember, you want all stakeholders to be able to read and understand it without explanation.
Let’s look at Honest Tea as an example:
It certainly checks the boxes: It’s clear and easily understandable. It tells everyone what they will and won’t do. I’m pretty sure the product development team knows not to bring recipes with genetically modified ingredients and a lot of sugar, and their marketing team knows to be straightforward with its messaging. That’s the goal of the exercise — capture the key things you will do and, as a result, capture the things you won’t do.
At the end of this stage of the process you will have a meaningful vision statement that tells everyone your big goal for the long term. You will also have a mission statement that articulates what you will do right now to achieve that goal. You are well on your way to building a great strategic plan.
Capture Your Future is a series of articles bringing you practical insights gleaned from over 20 years’ building strategic plans for divisions of big public companies, medium-size privately held companies, and nonprofit organizations. Along the way I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned from doing the right things and sometimes the wrong things in building good strategic plans.
Other posts in the Capture Your Future series: