Mission vs. vision—how do they differ and how does one influence the other?
In this article, we’ll learn about the definition of each, why the difference in meaning matters, and how to craft mission and vision statements that will lead your organization to succeed.
Mission vs. vision: key differences
Here is a short distinction between mission and vision:
The vision represents the organization’s long-term, overarching purpose.
A vision is:
By its very nature, an organization’s vision is somewhat abstract and intangible. Yet businesses operate in the real world, so it’s necessary to bridge the gap between the organization’s abstract purpose and its day-to-day operations, which is where the organization’s mission comes in.
The mission refers to the activities by which the company makes its vision a reality.
The distinction between the vision and mission is similar to the difference between a strategy and a plan. A strategy is an overarching approach to solving a problem or achieving a goal, while the plan consists of step-by-step actions aimed at fulfilling that goal.
Mission vs. vision statements
These two statements provide guiding “north stars” by which the company can direct its activities.
Since these statements encapsulate the organization’s most fundamental directive, it is crucial to craft them carefully. On the one hand, they should accurately reflect the organization’s foremost guiding principles. At the same time, though, they should be concise, which actually can make them more challenging to construct.
Let’s look at some key ideas and elements that should be included in each statement.
A mission statement defines points such as:
- The organization’s main business goal
- How the organization differs from competitors
- Which customers the organization serves
- How it empowers the success of its customers
- Why the organization is pursuing these aims
Note that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for creating an impactful mission statement. The choice of what exactly to include should also be reflective of your organization’s approach to fulfilling its purpose.
As a standard to uphold, mission statements should offer a strong direction with which employees and customers can identify.
Here are a few examples:
- Google – To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
- Microsoft – To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more
- Facebook – Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together
These statements show that a single, short sentence is enough to encapsulate the organization’s mission. In the process of building a mission statement, it is important to get feedback, refine the statement, and review it from multiple angles before adopting it.
The vision statement
The vision statement should focus on points such as:
- The aspirations and ideals the organization hopes to support
- What the organization hopes to achieve in the coming years
- How the organization hopes to evolve
A vision statement complements the mission statement, but it clearly differs in terms of content. The vision explains “what” an organization’s purpose is, and the mission explains “how” it will achieve that purpose.
To see how this plays out, let’s look at the vision statements for the mission statements covered above:
- Google – To provide access to the world’s information in one click
- Microsoft – To help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential
- Facebook – People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them
Comparing these statements against the mission statements above, the difference between mission statements and vision statements should be clear. Mission statements focus on the practical, while vision statements focus on the ideal.
Granted, both statements are far more abstract than strategies, plans, and day-to-day business processes.
However, as mentioned, both statements act as navigational tools for any business. They are therefore essential, not only for internal decision-making, but for representing the organization’s position to the outside world.
Beyond mission and vision
The mission and vision are closely connected to other principles that guide the organization, such as corporate values and the organizational culture.
While these other elements are less rigorously defined than the mission and vision statements, they are common, particularly among large organizations.
Amazon articulates not only its mission and vision, but also:
- Four core guiding principles
- Their positions on social and political issues
- Fourteen leadership principles
Many companies also clearly outline their policies and stances around the workplace, their hiring practices, their corporate culture, their values, and more.
Clearly defining the mission, the vision, and other guiding principles can, among other things, inform business activities, build the organization’s reputation, and even help the organization stay more relevant in today’s new normal.