Mission, Vision and Values: Is Your Company Up to the Challenge?

(Editor’s note: You can find an excerpt of this article and more like it by downloading our free eBook, What Really Matters: A Guide to Defining and Realizing Your Company’s Aspirations.)

Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing (your mission), where you’re trying to go (your vision), and how you’re going to go about it (your values) are the glue that holds an organization together. You preserve these elements while your strategies and goals change and flex with the market. You may modify your mission, vision, or values over time, but the intent stays unchanged. In the end, you will have complete clarity when making critical business decisions that impact your future.

TIP: Don’t let being pragmatic get in the way of this important stage of building a strong foundation of consensus for your organization. If you don’t take the time to articulate mission, values, and vision on the front end, you may pay for it later when you’re trying to write goals and objectives without a crystal-clear strategic direction.

Assessing your mission

A mission statement is a statement of the company’s purpose or its fundamental reason for existing. To build a solid foundation for a successful business, having a written, clear, concise, and consistent mission statement is essential. This statement should simply explain who you are and why you exist. Your mission statement serves as a guide for day-to-day operations and as the foundation for future decision making. When thinking of a length for your mission, make sure that it can fit it on a T-shirt.

If you have a mission statement, it may be time to dust it off or give it a polishing for updates or total overhauls. Generally, if five years have gone by and you haven’t even touched your mission statement, it’s definitely time to review, fine-tune, or even rewrite it.

Aspirations-web-cover-265x300Want to learn more about what GREAT companies are made of? Download our free eBook:

What Really Matters: A Guide to Defining and Realizing Your Company’s Aspirations

The worst thing for your planning effort is to have a mission statement that’s meaningless to your staff and other stakeholders. Sit down with your senior staff or management team and evaluate the effectiveness of your current mission statement. Collect everyone’s thoughts and suggestions, but the final decision on how to change the mission is the CEO’s. If you do decide to change it, leave the wordsmithing to one person.

Don’t get stuck on this part of the process. If need be, develop a mission statement or a revised statement that’s dubbed as a work in progress or draft. Many organizations get caught up in developing the most perfect statement possible. This thought process misses the reason for a mission statement in the first place. Although you can use your statement in your marketing collateral or with customers, its primary usage is to clearly state the purpose of your organization to your employees and other stakeholders. Sometimes it takes years to perfect the statement for public usage. In the meantime, you have a team that understands why it comes to work every day.

Fine-tuning your organizational values

Values are enduring, passionate, and distinctive core beliefs. They’re guiding principles that never change. Values are why you do what you do and what you stand for. Values are deeply held convictions, priorities, and underlying assumptions that influence your attitudes and behaviors. They have intrinsic value and importance to those inside the organization. Your core values are part of your strategic foundation.

Developing core values can be tricky because you’re transferring something that’s very personal into a group and business setting. As you’re working toward developing a values statement for your organization, beware of the personal and emotional connection most of your team members have with creating it.

Here are some guidelines:

  • One word isn’t enough to convey the real meaning of a value. Create phrases, but not paragraphs.
  • Values should be specific, not generic. More than one word is needed to define specificity.
  • Values need to be shared. Although you don’t need consensus from everyone in your organization, you do need agreement from senior management.
  • The list should include between five and seven values. Values need to be memorable to your staff, so having a few statements is better than having so many that nobody remembers any.

You don’t set or establish core values; you discover them. Focus on discovering shared values within your organization by starting with individual’s values and moving up to the organization. Ask the following questions:

  • What are the core values and beliefs of our company?
  • What values and beliefs guide our daily interactions?
  • What are we really committed to?

Developing a set of values is one thing; living by them is something completely different. It’s important to note that having a values statement that’s all talk and no commitment undermines your leadership and the management team’s credibility.

Visioning: Focusing in on your North Star

Forming a strategic vision should provide long-term direction, delineate what kind of enterprise the company is trying to become, and infuse the organization with a sense of purposeful action. Vision serves as a unifying focal point for everyone in the organization — like a North Star. In fact, your vision statement needs to be something you can achieve at some point in the future. Visions are also referred to as Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, a term made popular by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their Harvard Business Review article “Building Your Company’s Vision.”

A vision statement can be as far reaching as 100 years or as short as 5 years. Some people think that if you’re not planning for 20 years in the future, you’re being too shortsighted. Others say that the world is changing too quickly to plan more than a few years out. Either way, your vision statement needs to work for your company and the industry you operate in. I recommend developing a vision statement that’s far reaching but attainable. If you attain it in a shorter amount of time, congratulations! But if you don’t push your thinking out far enough, you find yourself being too tactical in your strategic planning.

Here are two examples of visions, or BHAGs, that were very lofty at the time they were established:

  • “We will put a man on the moon before the end of the decade and bring him back.” – President John F. Kennedy
  • “A computer on every desk and in every home using great software as an empowering tool.” -Microsoft

The vivid description in your vision needs to be just that — vivid. Include a list of ideas, phrases, adjectives, and so forth that thoroughly explain what achieving the vision statement is like. Try to imagine your organization when you reach your vision. Your vivid description explains what it feels like. Your description should be vibrant and engaging and should translate the vision from words into pictures that people can carry in their heads.

Futurecasting: Looking to the future

In order to make the most of your planning effort and the work you’ve put into your vision statement so far, put your strategic thinking hat on and envision the future. Companies spend a lot of time predicting what sales will be like in the future, but little time actually thinking about the factors that impact that future. These factors include the following:

  • Underlying dynamics
  • The sweeping trajectory of new competition
  • The way customers evolve
  • The collision course one industry may be on with another

Consider starting your annual strategic planning retreat by futurecasting — the practice of trying to envision your company’s future. Really push your team to think about what will be happening in five or 10 years.

A strategic plan is as much about the planning as it is about the strategizing. Futurecasting helps you really push your big-picture thinking to develop a strategic plan that’s truly, well, strategic. You’re dead in the water if you let your assumptions take over strategic thinking.

Erica Olsen
Erica Olsen

Erica Olsen is a strategy consultant, application developer, entrepreneur, business owner and author. Currently, Erica is the COO at OnStrategy.
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