Craft your mission & vision statements

Craft your mission & vision statements

Your mission & vision statements answer the questions: “Why do we exist?” and “Where are we going?”.

Organizations need a north star to provide clarity and alignment, especially in the fog of war. As Patrick Lencioni writes, “employees at every level need to know that at the heart of what they do lies something grand and aspirational.” Effective mission & vision statements inform and inspire the critical stakeholders that surround your business, including customers, employees, investors, and candidates. Your statements should help them understand the value of your company and product, as well as where you are headed. It captures, in a few sentences, what gets you out of bed in the morning.

For your mission statement, keep asking “why?” or “in service of what?” until you reach something grand and aspirational – usually ending just short of “to make the world a better place”. Try using the five whys technique to get to the root. Your mission statement should feel human. It should be emotive and should be an authentic source of inspiration. Your mission statement should be created with intention. It’s okay to write it while your values and strategy are still emergent. Your mission statement is not your competitive differentiation or marketing plan (though it should align with your marketing after the fact). Your vision statement should communicate where you are going. It’s about the future state you intend to achieve.

When Vocap Managing Director Vinny Olmstead was CEO of Bridgevine, a B2B and B2C marketplace for home services, he led the creation of a compelling mission and vision that ultimately lasted for 14 years until the company sold. A few best practices from Vinny based on this experience:

  • Welcome all input: include both senior management AND major influencers regardless of level. This helps immensely. During the development of mission and vision, titles don’t matter.
  • Use a facilitator: if possible, use a facilitator who has done this before. We first attempted on our own and failed. An objective and experienced outsider is instrumental.
  • Iterate over a month or so to get comfortable. Time space to allow ideas to settle. The goal is to create a lasting vision and mission, and a two hour session won’t suffice.
  • Communicate purposefully: create a grass roots communication plan. Celebrate the mission and vision, and invest in merchandise and collateral that reinforces.
  • Share with key customers! It sounds odd, but we even asked feedback from key clients.

Here are some better known examples:

  • Google:
    • Mission: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
    • Vision: To provide access to the world’s information in one click.
  • Uber:
    • Mission: Uber’s mission is to bring transportation — for everyone, everywhere.
    • Vision: Smarter transportation with fewer cars and greater access. Transportation that’s safer, cheaper, and more reliable; transportation that creates more job opportunities and higher incomes for drivers.
  • LinkedIn:
    • Mission: To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.
    • Vision: To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.
  • Tesla:
    • Mission: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
    • Vision: To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.
  • Southwest Airlines:
    • Mission: The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.
    • Vision: To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.

We favor a mission statement that is broad and not overly concrete. This pairs well with a vision statement that gets more specific. The vision statement should help you visualize the mission statement in a way that makes it come to life. It might even describe a magical user moment as a mental anchor. Some examples above follow this formula more closely than others.

As Vinny referenced, carefully consider how you want to communicate the mission and vision, both internally and externally. Some companies place it on the first slide of every board deck. Others post it on their website. Just make sure it’s communicated frequently and conspicuously so that it’s always salient for your employees and stakeholders. A good litmus test: if you asked 5 random employees your mission & vision statements, would they know them by heart? Could they offer a personal anecdote, recent work example or interpretation about what it means to them? Once you ask the question, be patient for the answer – a brief pause can make the difference between a canned response and an authentic story, especially if posed to a group.

A good litmus test: if you asked 5 random employees your mission & vision statements, would they know them by heart? Could they offer a personal anecdote, recent work example or interpretation about what it means to them? Once you ask the question, be patient for the answer – a brief pause can make the difference between a canned response and an authentic story, especially if posed to a group.

Making the mission & vision stick:

  • Make it lofty
  • Be descriptive
  • Be human
  • Be true
  • Be concise
  • Avoid jargon
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