On Mission and Vision Statements

When I lecture on strategic management, I spend some time on what I call the existential questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What do we do?
  • What do we aspire to achieve?
  • What do we value?

These are the statements of identity, mission, vision, and values with which we are all familiar.

I have little to say about identity, because it’s a relatively straightforward matter.  I also have little, in this lecture, to say about values.  I prefer to address that topic elsewhere.

I focus primarily on mission and vision.  And, over the years, I have had much to say about these two topics.

To be honest, I consider mission and vision statements to be of limited value.  But I will concede that I have seen a few well-crafted statements that serve as useful guides in setting the direction and boundaries of the strategic management process.

For example, a mission statement might state in a very succinct way who your customers are and who they are not.  To whom are you selling?  That’s a key question and one that intersects directly with questions of image and branding.

A vision statement may convey something about your organizational culture, your commitments, your expectations, and perhaps something of your organizational philosophy or outlook.  These are also useful things.

Over the years, I’ve taken this lecture in a different direction.  I now offer more advice not on what to include in these statements but on what to avoid.  My goal is, again, to make them something thoughtful that guides the strategic management process – not something motivational to hang on the cafeteria bulletin board.   The answers to your existential questions should be statements that guide you in your strategic planning.  To that end, what should you avoid?

Things to avoid:

  1. Ambiguity – Be clear and don’t be wordy. A lack of clarity cannot serve as a guide to your strategic thinking.
  1. Insincerity – Mean what you say. Otherwise, you start from a false premise as you formulate your strategy.
  1. Hyperbole – Set rational, attainable goals. If everyone is world class, then no one is.
  1. Trying to be all things to all people – In effect, you’re saying “we have no boundaries.” But you do have boundaries – boundaries imposed by the reality that you have finite resources that prevent you from doing everything.  Strategy is about making choices.

To net it out, I would prefer mission and vision statements written to guide my strategic thinking.