One of the classic areas of confusion in the field of strategy across all organizations is that of Vision and Mission. While the ‘for-profits’ can also struggle with this concept I want to focus on ‘not-for-profits’ because values and our mission are our reasons for being in existence (as opposed to, say, generating a superior financial return by exploiting a market opportunity).
The biggest issue here seems to be a lack of clarity around what a ‘vision’ statement should be as opposed to a ‘mission’ statement. What is the difference? Is there one? And, if not, why should we include both? We’ll take a brief look at these questions.
Here are some examples I have picked up from organisations’ websites to have a think about. You will notice that some organisations seem to have both a vision and mission statement – some organisations have one or the other and some have neither!
- Mission Australia: “To see a fairer Australia by enabling people in need to find pathways to a better life.”
- Bendigo and Adelaide Bank: “We aim to be Australia’s leading customer-connected banking group.”
- Retirement Villages Association: “To be valued and respected nationally by all our stakeholders for enhancing the viability and excellence of the Australian retirement village industry.”
- Mission Australia:” Walking alongside people in need, we help them discover pathways…”
- Epworth HealthCare (No Vision statement but their mission statement and values are combined): “Epworth HealthCare is committed to providing excellence in treatment and care. Excellence is part of our commitment to patient care, support of our staff, investment in research and teaching, and working with our doctors – everywhere, everyday.”
- Retirement Villages Association: “As the peak body, we aim to lead the building and growth of a sustainable and responsible retirement village Industry that will ensure our member villages are the preferred lifestyle choice of retirees.”
I could not find reference to either a Vision or a Mission statement for any of the following organisations:
- Darebin City Council (Vic). (Darebin has a ‘Promise’ to its ratepayers): “As a democratic and accountable local government, we will strive in all that we do to achieve fairness, through innovative and progressive leadership that respects and reflects our diverse community.”
- ANZ Bank (cites its ‘business strategy’): “We aim to become a super regional bank. This involves growing our presence in the Asia Pacific region and source 25-30% of earnings from our Asia Pacific Europe and America Division by 2017, while also being very focused on growth in our core domestic businesses in Australia and New Zealand.”
- Wesfarmers: “Wesfarmers’ long standing objective is to deliver a satisfactory return to shareholders. Guided by this principle, the company has developed a unique, highly-focused and disciplined business culture. Underlying this, Wesfarmers adheres to four core values: integrity; openness; accountability; and boldness.”
- Australian Unity: “Australian Unity’s history as a trusted mutual organisation dates back more than 170 years. It has grown organically—by continually evolving and providing the services and products needed by the communities it serves—as well as through successful strategic mergers and diversification into new business activities. In 2011, this social purpose guides strategic planning as the company—together with customers, members and the broader community—responds to the challenges of an ageing population, the rise of chronic disease and growing economic uncertainty.”
- BUPA: “At Bupa, we exist to help our members live longer, healthier, happier lives. And as a leading healthcare organisation in Australia, we’re well placed to support and look after you and your family’s health.”
So what is the big deal? Given there are some significant (and ‘successful’ organisations) without Vision and Mission statements, why are we talking about this at all?
Largely because I believe a strategy cannot be put in place unless you have a view of where you are going – a sense of the bigger picture and your purpose or your role in achieving this. And for this reason vision and mission statements are important. While the organisations listed above demonstrate the language is not necessarily important, my view is that a little clarity of language will take you a long way.
Firstly, well-crafted statements of purpose provide a theme around which you, your staff, your stakeholders and your community can rally. In the ‘fog of war’ we all need something to grab hold of, something to re-kindle that flicker that burns despite the difficulties of the day. As they say in the military, plans only last until H-hour; after that the troops are on their own. What will you leave them with as they go into battle?
Secondly, the critical starting point in ensuring your strategy is able to be effectively executed is a clear statement of purpose. As the saying goes ‘rubbish in; rubbish out’ and, in our view, a poor statement of purpose will end up compromising your strategy as you try and cascade it through the various stages of strategy development and your organisation. If your strategy isn’t clear and able to be clearly communicated to those who are meant to implement it, chances are it’s not going to end well.
Finally, I believe we all desire some sense of meaning and purpose in our lives (most of which we spend at work). Having a clear, meaningful, purposeful and genuine vision and mission framework will allow you to potentially tap into a massive community of support – human resource and funding-based – by giving people a chance to believe in what you are trying to achieve. Brand experts talk about employer brand equity – understanding this can give you a jump on your competitors by attracting and retaining people which, other things being equal, should increase your efficiency and effectiveness which should make you more successful.
So, in short, my suggestion is as follows:
- Vision – a super-ordinate goal. Something for which we can all strive, something that might not ever be reached but that you feel (and your stakeholders feel) worth striving for through the challenges and triumphs of every day (eg, An end to homelessness | Access to food, water and shelter for all children | An education for all….); and
- Mission – The part we, as an organisation, will play in working toward realising that vision. Your mission statement should be clear, communicable, measurable and tangible. The mission statement is critical as it, in turn, forms the basis of your business planning.