In the ‘About’ section of every big company you can see their mission and vision proudly displayed, using fancy words and lengthy phrases. You can just imagine someone heavily browsing a synonyms website and picking the ones that are the most convolute. In the end, they compile such an intricate and sophisticated text, that at first makes you have profound admiration for this articulate company, but then you realize that it actually means nothing…just a long motivational speech, an array of words meant to impress with no weight whatsoever. The same ideas could have been conveyed in 20 words maximum, instead of 20 pages.

Apart from the lengthy text, companies also seem to mix up their vision and mission statements, adding to the confusion. So let’s set things straight starting with the definitions.

What is a Vision Statement?
A vision statement is the desired end state of the company, it offers a clear and inspirational long-term view of what the company hopes to be and to achieve. The main timeframe for the vision statement is the future. It acts as a ‘north star’ for the company, guiding employees so that their work contributes towards achieving the overall goal and also molding the corporate culture.

The Vision Statement is the ‘north star’ of the company

The vision statement provides an answer to the following questions: Where do we aim to be? How do we envision our future?

In order to guide employees and the organization towards the right path, the vision statement has to be written as straightforward as possible. Of course, it has to motivate and convince employees to share the same vision, but without a façade of blurry adjectives and general expressions which could be applied to any other company. The vision has to be specific to the organization, inspirational for employees and, at the same time, feasible for the company.

Counter-examples of Vision Statements

Hilton: ““To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality” – Would that mean they have good lighting and heating systems?
Dell: ““To be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in markets we serve.”  – So they don’t want to make good computers, but instead have good customer service to deal with the bad computers.
PepsiCo: “To continually improve all aspects of the world in which we operate – environment, social, economic – creating a better tomorrow than today. Our vision is put into action through programs and a focus on environmental stewardship, activities to benefit society, and a commitment to build shareholder value by making PepsiCo a truly sustainable company.” – A bit much for a food and beverage company.
Ikea: “At IKEA our vision is to create a better everyday life for the many people.” – It does not say anything, it might as well been the vision of a pharmaceutical company.

Good Examples of Vision Statements
Oxfam: A just world without poverty
Alzheimer’s Association: Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s
Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live
Amnesty International: Amnesty International’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.

What is a Mission Statement?
A Mission statement defines what the company’s strategy is. The timeframe for the mission statement is the present. It provides answers to the following questions: What do we do? Who are we doing it for? How are we doing it? By answering the above, the company defines its own path to follow, outlining its primary objectives.

Mission statements are present-based statements designed to convey a sense of why the company exists to both members of the company and the external community. The mission statements, like the vision, has to be clearly formulated so that employees are able to understand it and see how their day to day work matches the company’s strategy.
The mission statement can be frequently changed to adapt to the market and the needs of customers; however, it still has to adhere to the vision.

Counter-examples of Mission Statements
“The Walt Disney Company‘s objective is to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information, using its portfolio of brands to differentiate its content, services and consumer products. The company’s primary financial goals are to maximize earnings and cash flow, and to allocate capital toward growth initiatives that will drive long-term shareholder value.” – Too much focus on profit, nothing about target market and customer needs
Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.” – Just a list of products
Amazon: “We seek to be Earth’s most customer-centric company for four primary customer sets: consumers, sellers, enterprises, and content creators.” – Listed as mission, but more like a vague vision
Starbucks: “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” – Again not a mission, it’s not actually saying anything about the business.

Good Examples of Mission Statements
Google‘s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Skype’s mission is to be the fabric of real-time communication on the web.
YouTube’s mission is to provide fast and easy video access and the ability to share videos frequently.

Which comes first?
The vision statement has to be formulated first and then the mission. The overall vision of the company guides the mission. With this in mind, both the vision and the mission should be revisited periodically. As a company grows, its objectives and goals may change, thus in order for a company to prosper in a changing market, it must adapt its vision and its mission.

Concluding, a company’s mission and vision can tell a lot about its culture, its purpose and its future. Poorly crafted statements lead to confusion, not motivation. In order to inspire stakeholders and set themselves apart from the competition, companies need to pay extra attention to how they formulate both their mission and their vision.