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The Vision and the Mission explained

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The vision and the mission are powerful statements that help drive an organization into achieving a higher purpose. They are often confused with one another, however, and many organizations even use them interchangeably.

In simplest terms: the vision is what you want to be, while the mission is what you have to do.

Here’s a quick guide to what makes for a great vision, and what makes for a great mission. Let’s start with the mission.

The Mission

The mission statement tells us what the company is all about. It can describe what the company does, what products it makes, who its customers are, or even what its core values are like. It is, in essence, a statement of purpose or a description of the reason for the company’s existence.

There is no single rule on how to write a mission statement. There are long mission statements and there are very short ones. In fact, one of the shortest mission statements simply says “To love our customer to death”!

Generally, missions can contain the following components: scope of products and services offered, company values and ideology, ambition, location or territory served, position in the marketplace.

Example:
Cosmos Plumbing shall be the biggest manufacturer of top-quality PVC pipes in the Philippines.

The important thing is for a mission statement to capture the essence of a company, so that if an outsider sets foot at the top of management here, he or she will immediately grasp the idea about what the business is all about from the mission statement alone.

Because a mission states what a company does, they can be classified as follows:

Limiting mission statements – These mission statements deliberately limit the scope of operations of a business, narrowing its focus to just a key product or industry:

  • We make the best glass pipes in Asia.
  • We want to be known as the makers of the best-tasting chicken barbecues in Metro Manila.
  • We produce top quality car covers.

Stimulating mission statements – These mission statements do not limit the scope of operations of a business, and so allow the business to expand into a variety of directions due to the broadness of its description:

  • We are a provider of information to the masses.
  • We seek to become the largest entertainment conglomerate in the region.
  • We shall be the largest leisure group in the world.

Note how the two are different: “glass pipes,” “chicken barbecue” and “car covers” are examples of very limiting scopes of businesses. Certainly it is hard to imagine a business with the words “chicken barbecue” in its mission going into automobile manufacturing. The advantage of a limiting mission statement, however, is that it creates a tremendous sense of focus for the business. There will be lesser chances of it diversifying into unrelated and unnecessary business domains. The disadvantage, however, comes when it turns out that the industry that such a business is focusing on goes on a decline, and the company has no “back door” for expansion to other businesses because its mission is too narrowly defined.

On the other hand, “information,” “entertainment” and “leisure” are broad and stimulating terms because there are so many areas that these kinds of businesses can jump into. Information for instance can include the Internet, books, audio and video software, and even TV and radio shows and magazines. So there is a broad avenue that is available for growth and expansion. The advantage obviously comes from rich diversification prospects within the selected area. The disadvantage, however, comes from the possibility that the company might end up diluting its resources if it diversifies too much too soon.

A good rule of thumb to follow: Mission statements should be limiting without being too limited.

The Vision

While the mission tells us what your company does, the vision gives us an idea of an envisioned future. The span of the future may depend on the industry, but it is not unusual to think in terms of what your company will be 20 years from now. After all, the longer the time horizon, the easier it will be to achieve the seemingly impossible!

Vision statements, out of necessity, have to embody some form of ambition. Often, in fact, it is encouraged that a company should have an almost outrageously ambitious vision statement.

Examples:

  • Become the most powerful, the most serviceable, the most far reaching world financial institution that has ever been (City Bank, predecessor to Citicorp, 1915)
  • Become the dominant player in commercial aircraft and bring the world into the jet age, (Boeing, 1950)
  • Crush Adidas (Nike, 1960s)

The vision could be in terms of size and market leadership. However, there is also the opportunity to inject a social transformation angle into the vision. Sony, for instance, once had a vision of transforming the poor image of Japanese products in the global marketplace (which were once considered inferior), and it accomplished this alright.

There’s a reason why a sense of audacity is encouraged for the vision statement. For one thing, it rallies the organization into a common goal that provides a sense of challenge. Communicated properly, a very strong and ambitious vision statement give the members of the company a strong sense of purpose that makes them feel that they are part of something truly worthwhile. This is why a social transformation element is highly encouraged for the vision statement:

“We shall lead the way towards making the Philippines the world’s largest provider of back-office information technology services.”

Also, a very ambitious vision statement challenges the company’s leadership to utilize the company resources towards a definite direction. The clearer the vision is, the more the management becomes encouraged to help realize it eventually. This results in a more focused effort for the entire organization as it seeks to make their dreams a reality.

Conclusion

The mission tells us who you are and what you have to do, while the vision tells us what you want your legacy to be.

As a final thought, remember that when you do come up with your mission and vision, it helps that you sincerely believe in these and that you take every opportunity to pursue these. Otherwise, these will just be lip service, and the grand ambitious vision would not be reached.

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