Every time we  dive into visioning exercises with our clients, we see similar questions pop up each time. These questions usually sound like: What’s the difference between a vision and a mission? Do I need both? And why do I need a purpose statement? And then there are values, taglines and just causes. There’s a jungle of words out there and it’s easy to get confused. So the purpose of this post is to create clarity around Vision, Mission and Purpose statements so that you can be more effective in implementing them in your organisation. In this article we’ll walk you through the meaning and purpose of each and explore how they can help your organisation.

But first let’s look at some of the more confusing points.

1. Everything gets thrown into the purpose statement

Most businesses today find it important to have “what they do” at the forefront of everything. That’s where the creation of a purpose statement can get messy. Ideally a purpose statement says very little about what you do or how you do it. It may refer to your industry for example but when you describe all your products or services in your purpose statement you lose the impact and its potential.

Imagine Nike saying “We make the best shoes, shirts and shorts so that everyone can exercise”. The idea behind this statement might not be so bad, but it limits Nike to just making sports products.

2. Mission or Purpose?

Many definitions on the internet refer to a company’s mission as describing the purpose of the organisation. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with this and many businesses have used this to make pretty compelling mission statements, most mission statements tend to focus on the organisation only and not describe why the organisation exists. The bigger objective that is beyond the organisation itself is missing. Your mission is either to become the leading electric car manufacturer or in Tesla’s case to accelerate sustainable transportation. Tesla actually properly uses its mission statement to reflect its purpose.

3. Different interpretations of Purpose

How we usually describe purpose follows Simon Sinek’s golden circle (insert link).t assumes your organisation has one reason to exist. A reason that is greater than you or your organisation. At the same time, there are people who use purpose in a more generic fashion, where having purpose means your business is embarking on a journey of meaningful (read purposeful) work. Including SDGs into your business goals can create purpose (meaning) in an organisation. Both are great ways of looking at a purpose and it’s important to make sure you are both talking about the same thing when you’re discussing purpose at your next meeting.

4. Taglines and fancy language

In the creative process of writing a purpose statement, some enthusiasts are likely to come up with some really good words or statements that sound like they could go into an ad or jingle right away. Yet these beautiful words are often not purpose statements. They may sound like “passion in everything”, “going the extra mile” or “people at our heart”. Often, they are inspiring enough to keep somewhere – one of them may just turn into a tagline for your brand. Be aware that a purpose statement really describes who you are at your core and how you create an impact on the world.

5. Vision statements that include behaviour of today

Where a mission statement is a great place to add what it is that you do specifically, for example “build best in class electric cars”, “improve health of people”, “produce delicious cakes”; the vision statement should not be about what you do and more about where you’re heading or preferably where the world is heading. We still see a lot of vision statements that sound like “be the best in class bank” or “offer outstanding customer service”. The latter describes behaviour you would like to see as part of your culture where the first is a noble goal but really too broad to be ever measured.

6. All about me

We hear you, your organisation has a lot of ambition, and you want to reach the top. That’s great, but beyond feeling good about yourself, what does that do for others or the world at large? The challenge with statements like these is that they do very little to inspire people to give it their best in the long term.

If your vision sounds like this:

“To be the world’s premier petroleum and petrochemical company”

“To be the most admired delivery company”

You may want to reconsider and ask yourself, if that’s where you’re heading then, what’s the impact on the world you want to create?

7. No alignment with the organisation

Some larger companies fall into the trap of creating the vision, mission and purpose statements in isolation. Many brand agencies will help your organisation create beautiful sounding statements and that’s exactly what they are, beautiful statements. They would do well in advertisements and make you look good on the outside. The risk however, is that your statements do not align with the culture of your organisation. The moment anyone interacts with your organisation, there’s a good chance they will get a very different experience from what you profess to be on the outside.

In today’s world where the media are quick to check your behaviour against what you say you are, it’s important to include as many people as you can in the exercise of creating mission, vision and purpose statements that are meaningful and centered around your values and culture.

Why have a mission, vision and purpose?

With all the confusion around, let us go back one moment and ask ourselves “Why have a vision, mission and purpose statement at all?”. Is it because every company has one? Or because it’s part of your branding or strategic exercise?

When companies approach us, they usually express it’s about much more. They want to align their people, employees, consumers and even partners. They also want to create clarity on their direction, and some CEOs see creating a purpose as the best approach to plan for the next in line to step up, without jeopardizing the long term goals of the organisation. Whatever it is for you, a vision, mission and purpose will likely be more than just pretty words on a website.

Here are the top reasons why creating clarity around your vision, mission and purpose are important:

So let’s make sure your mission, vision and purpose have the greatest impact possible and this starts by making sure everyone is talking about the same thing.

  • Create a common objective for both employees and consumers to fight for.
  • Inspire those around you to reach higher and to give more.
  • Create a buzz and free marketing when done right
  • Unite employees.
  • Allow employees to naturally know what to do and how to fit in.
  • Create an appealing organisation for future employees.
  • Establish opportunities for collaboration.
  • Invite sustainable practises.
  • Make succession planning easier.

So let’s make sure your mission, vision and purpose have the greatest impact possible and this starts by making sure everyone is talking about the same thing.

Creating clarity

In writing this, we recognize the many definitions of vision, mission and purpose statements available on the internet. They are not wrong and if you align better with any of them, then that’s great. However, we prefer to base our definitions on the work of Simon Sinek. His view of businesses is focused on impacting the world (beyond ourselves) as well as playing an infinite game (read this article if the infinite game is new to you) of being in business for the long run, not for short term monetary gains.

Definitions:

Purpose is the reason “why” you exist. The higher reason why your company is here in this world that goes beyond making a profit. A good purpose statement will rally everyone, employees and the general public, around your cause. It will also push away people  who are not aligned with your purpose.

Vision is “where” you are heading or your description of the future. Although this is often described as who you become, it’s even more powerful when you describe how others become when you achieve your vision. A well written vision will inspire your employees and sometimes the general public to do their part in achieving your vision.

Mission is “what” you are going to accomplish. Ideally your mission is measurable, on a high level, to track your progress towards it. A good mission will help everyone get clear on what it is they are part of.

There’s a lot being said on visions, missions and purpose statements and that can often lead to confusion. With this article we hope you are clearer on how to use them for your organisation. If you would like to get more clarity or need support in creating a clear vision, mission and purpose statement (and create excitement in your organisation) drop us a message and we’d love to share our visioning workshop with you.

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