Vision versus Mission

Vision versus MissionToday’s question was posed by a CEO who asked: “Can you define the difference between vision and mission?” What a great question…it’s always refreshing to me when an executive checks their ego and asks a clarifying question (a characteristic of great leaders by the way) rather than pretend they know the answer. The reason this is such a great question is that I’ve witnessed far too many executives confuse vision and mission in terms of both definition and application. In today’s post I’ll clearly explain the difference between vision and mission.

As as a backdrop to answering today’s question, I want to share a simple organizational framework I developed several years ago to help executives gain a better understanding of leadership structure. Just like an algebraic formula, business also functions according to rules governing order of operations. My premise was that business logic is similar to the logic used in solving mathematical equations – if you attempt to solve a problem out of sequence it will result in a flawed outcome. The framework goes like this:

“Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission, which determines Strategy, which surfaces Goals that frame Objectives, which in turn drives the Tactics that tell an organization what Resources, Infrastructure and Processes are needed to support a certainty of execution.”(Mike Myatt, 1988)

Let me be clear – vision and mission are not interchangeable. Confusing mission and vision in definition or in sequence of application will result in inconsistent leadership decisions, confusion among the ranks, and the inevitability of flawed outcomes. It’s important to understand that vision statements are design oriented, while mission statements are execution oriented. In fact, it is the corporate vision that should determine its mission. The vision is bigger picture and future oriented, while the mission is more immediately focused on the present. It is the vision that defines the end game, and the mission is the road map that will take you there.

Vision statements, as implied in the construction of the phraseology itself, put forth a statement of envisioned future. This vision, if successful, must be underpinned by core ideology and then expressed with clarity and conviction. A non-existent, ambiguous, or ideologically weak corporate vision is nothing short of a recipe for disaster…It would be akin to the proverbial ship without a rudder adrift without any direction or control. As noted above, mission statements should reflect greater focus on more immediate concerns that support the overarching vision. Mission statements tend to be more functional in nature dealing with a variety of touch points throughout the value chain.

In keeping with the mathematical analogies above, it’s important to note that both vision and mission should be viewed as variables and not constants. What I mean by this is both the vision and mission need to be kept fresh and relevant. If either your vision or mission become outdated and irrelevant so too will your business.

Lastly, even though this is a discussion of the differences between vision and mission, don’t forget the first and most important step…basing everything upon core values. Don’t get caught up in attempting to develop something catchy to be encapsulated within a piece of framed artwork that hangs in your reception area yet never put into practice. It is much more important that your vision and mission be understood by company employees, and translated into the resultant authenticity of their actions. Your customers don’t care what you put on paper, but they care immensely about whether or not a company’s vision and mission are reflected in a fulfilled brand promise.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.

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Mike MyattMike Myatt, is a Top CEO Coach, author of “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual“, and Managing Director of N2Growth.

Mike Myatt




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No Comments

  1. Victor on December 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Can you explain what are the advantages of either Vision and/or Mission? It seems it is just an ISO 9001 requirement that may or may not have an impact on anything if not pulled through.

    I see the value of knowing what you want to do, but that might not be your mission, or you might have more than one mission, or different departments of your company might have different missions. Then, you have your values, which can be missions in themselves. Then you have your expectations, your assumptions. It all gets very complicated, and sometimes I feel this Vision/Mission thing oversimplifies what is complex in reality: define what do you want to do. And if it is so, why not call it “Goals”?

    My main point is that usually it seems to me that companies, in order to have a consensual unique company-wide Mission, they come with complex, intricate, all-inclusive definitions, sometimes very difficult to translate into actionable goals by most (and different departments of) of the company, and often rather open to interpretation (“Being the premiere destination in the [company’s business] business” might not be the same for Marketing than for Customer Satisfaction at a tactical level)

    (btw, a quote from 1988 does not make it more believable to me, but gives me the impression all these information might be rather outdated)

  2. Jeremy on December 13, 2010 at 12:36 am

    I think this is great. What would make it even better is two things.
    1. a strong visual to complement your excellent definition
    2. guidelines on how to create a solid vision statement, mission, etc.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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