Does your company have a compelling mission statement? What about an inspiring vision statement? For many business leaders, these may sound like trick questions; executives often don’t understand the crucial difference between a company’s mission and its vision, let alone carve out enough time for this key part of strategic planning.
That’s bad news for leaders who want to earn the respect of their colleagues and guide employees to success. In a Harvard Business Review survey, 77 percent of respondents said that being “forward-looking” is a key trait of a leader, yet only 3 percent of business leaders allocate time to envision the future.[1. “To Lead, Create a Shared Vision,” https://hbr.org/2009/01/to-lead-create-a-shared-vision/ar/1] Clearly, there’s a disconnect. If you’re serious about your company’s future, adopt these three rules for crafting clear, distinct mission and vision statements that steer you and your colleagues to success.
Are you avoiding crafting mission, vision, and purpose statements because you just don’t understand the difference between the two? Breathe a sigh of relief, then — the difference is pretty straightforward: a purpose defines why a company is in business, a mission defines what a company’s best at, and the vision deliniates big, broad, long-term goals that define accomplishment of the mission within a timeframe. Simply put, the purpose inspires excellence, the mission motivates action, and the vision defines the “destination.” Let’s look at an example, from FINCA International, a major non-profit microfinance institution:
FINCA’s purpose is inspirational, while FINCA’s mission — to “build assets” and “create jobs” — defines how the organization will act on that inspiration. But in their vision statement, the organization thinks even bigger; creating sustainable social enterprises worldwide is a loftier goal of the organization. A vision statement is aspirational but attainable, and crafting a compelling vision statement can help employees feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. Don’t be scared to dream really big with your vision. Think of this famous example: NASA’s directive to get man to the moon in the 1960s was a Vision. Even though they did not know how to accomplish the task, they drove with relentless force to bring the vision to life and, well, the rest is history.
Crafting separate statements for your company’s mission and vision is a good start, and having these statements in place can go a long way toward building employee morale and defining the future. But consider this troubling statistic: a 2012 survey by Gallup found that only 41 percent of employees felt they could confidently identify what their companies stood for and how they differentiated from competitors.[2. “Your Employees Don’t ‘Get’ Your Brand,” http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/156197/Employees-Don-Brand.aspx]
Why are employees having a hard time defining the very companies they work for? Part of the problem is that a company’s mission and vision statements are just too hard for employees to remember. The key to effective statements is to keep them short and sweet so employees have an easier time identifying with and remembering these key facets of your company (notice that FINCA International only used one sentence for each statement).
Writing mission and vision statements sometimes almost magically causes many leaders to turn suddenly verbose, but good leaders must suppress that urge, since it’s antithetical to the very purpose of these strategic statements. Think of it this way: if you can’t sum up the mission of your company in a few sentences or less, then that means that you don’t understand your company’s purpose. Writing the mission statement, especially, becomes a useful test of whether your company is appropriately focused.
Serial entrepreneur Richard Branson recalls a mission statement snafu made by the Warwickshire Police Department — the department penned a rambling, wordy 1,200-word-long mission statement. Rather than uplift and inspire employees, the mission statement ended up being nominated for the joke-y Golden Bull award “for excellence in gobbledygook” from the Plain English Campaign, a group that aids organizations in providing clear communications.[3. “Richard Branson on Crafting Your Mission Statement,” http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227507] The police department’s mission statement clearly lacked focus; as Sir Richard points out, the word “crime” never even made an appearance!
Yes, it takes time and effort to craft truly inspiring mission and vision statements — but that effort does pay off, quite literally. A study by Bain found a positive correlation between companies that created mission statements and their financial performance.
But it wasn’t enough just to create the mission statement; companies that aligned their internal structure and policies to their mission statements are the ones that experienced the most positive correlation with financial performance. In other words, companies really have to practice what they preach — if your employees don’t live and breathe your mission and vision, then having these statements in place becomes pointless.
To ensure that employees are truly in tune with your statements, you must communicate your mission and vision clearly, both through informal channels like email and perhaps even social media, and also more formally, like through quarterly meetings.
Employees all absorb information differently, and by sharing your mission and vision through multiple channels you ensure that you’re reaching the widest employee audience. I’ve seen the power of multiple-channel communication firsthand during my time at a Fortune 500 financial firm with particularly high employee engagement. The business communicated its values and vision through a monthly newsletter and a “LinkedIn-esque” social network, but also instituted quarterly meetings where the CEO would share his vision with the firm. These meetings were voluntary, but by creating an enthusiastic, upbeat atmosphere (cocktails and canapés were always served), the CEO guaranteed high attendance — which meant his mission and vision was communicated to many more employees.
But communication isn’t a one-way street; leaders must also listen to employee feedback on the company’s mission and vision, and be open to change. Having employees complain about the direction of the company is actually a good thing. When employees complain, that means they’re engaged. The key is to incorporate their complaints into new mission and vision statements when necessary. These statements are meant to be living, breathing documents — not creeds set in stone.
Creating an effective mission and vision statement is crucial for any business; these statements help define an organization’s purpose and provide aspirational goals that engaged employees can confidently rally around. To learn how smart strategic planning could catapult your organization to new levels of success, find out more about Applied Vision Works’ Strategic Planning Program.