There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there (and some really bad examples) of how to write a mission and vision statement for a company.
The generally accepted definition of these terms usually looks something like this:
Mission: the company’s purpose for being; how value is created for customers and stakeholders.
Vision: the future society you envision; how people will live differently if your organization is successful in its mission.
These definitions of mission and vision might work for writing marketing taglines for your website, but they’re missing some crucial elements that will make them more tangible, actionable and within reach for your employees.
Nathan Tebedo, Lead Coach at ContractorCoachPRO, says what’s missing—for both the mission and the vision—is an end date. He recommends an updated approach to this classic exercise of defining a company’s mission, vision and values so that you can be sure everyone in the company is rowing in the same direction and plans to arrive at the same time.
We’ll walk you through his methodology here, but if you want to get started now, download these worksheets and get to work right away!
Vision (what everyone is working towards)
Key question to answer: How will everyone in the company benefit from working together to achieve the vision?
Timeline: 3-5 years to achieve
Must include: inspirational language that energizes your team
You’ll want to start by defining your vision for the company over the next three to five years. Do that by answering questions such as:
- What do you want the company to achieve in that time?
- What about that goal would make someone want to join your company?
- If you achieve your vision, how does it benefit the folks who came along with you to make it happen?
ContracorCoachPRO believes that a company’s vision should be achievable within three to five years. Why? Because most people can’t even plan for this weekend, let alone visualize something more than three years out. If your vision is so large and ambitious that it’s going to take eight or 10 years to accomplish, who can see themselves being there at the end? If the employees can’t see themselves as part of the vision, they won’t buy-into it or be inspired by it.
Nathan says it’s also crucial to explain how the vision will benefit the employees. For example, if your vision is 3X growth, more divisions will have to be created, which presents the opportunity for internal advancement. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated or detailed, but there needs to be something appealing that makes someone say, “I want to be there for that!”
Lastly, your vision needs to be easily communicable so that your leadership and management teams can drive it down to the frontline. If it’s complicated, no one will remember it or repeat it, and will eventually forget about it.
NOTE: This is different from the traditional notion of a “vision statement” because most vision statements set a very lofty goal to be accomplished at some undetermined date in the distant future. A better term for those long-term targets is “purpose,” which we define below.
Mission (the strategic direction)
Key question to answer: What are the company-wide operating plans and objectives?
Timeline: roughly 12 months to achieve
Must include: SMART goals and a plan for achieving them
Your “mission” is the actual plan, objectives and metrics to accomplish a specific thing (generally, a portion of your vision) over a shorter length of time, typically 12 months. This is often referred to as the “strategic direction” for a company.
A mission should:
- be obtainable and have an end date
- be tangible and actionable
- include SMART goals, and a plan for achieving them
- be branded to bring it to life, make it fun, and incorporate it into company culture
Make sure you set the vision first, so that when you define the mission for the year ahead, you can refer to the vision to determine what still needs to be done, then set priorities for the next year.
Nathan points out that the military is really good at this. They have specific missions, and each mission has an objective. It’s branded with a name. They have strategies to meet those objectives. They have inventory for projects that are part of the strategies. And most importantly, they have an end date and a way to determine if it was successful or not.
Define your objectives, including how you will determine success and over what period of time you will work to meet those objectives. What major projects will have to occur to get there? Who will make up those project teams? How will they be financed? Then work with a creative team to brand it and bring it to life within your organization.
Purpose (the company’s reason for existing)
Key question to answer: Why does the company exist and what does it hope to accomplish or impact?
Timeline: long-term future, at least 10 years out
Must include: aspirational language that inspires someone to want to be a part of it
This is why the company exists and what it hopes to accomplish or impact over the course of its existence:
To deliver safe drinking water to every human on the planet.
To put shoes on every child on the continent.
To reduce the world’s reliance on plastic.
Nathan says that writing the purpose statement might be the hardest part of these exercises because, "your company’s purpose statement is truly an internal battle cry that gets you and your people going. It’s much more about inspiring your employees around why the company exists and what we are all doing here together. At ContractorCoachPRO, our purpose statement is “Empowering people to believe”.
A purpose statement is meant to be inspirational, but should also be realistic, and Nathan says that has a lot to do with how a company chooses to define its purpose. For example, could a small software startup ever hope to become “the best software company in the world” when Microsoft and Google exist? Probably not. But could they become “the most trusted estimating software in the landscaping industry?” Quite possibly!
Core Values (how the company’s people should behave)
The purpose of core values is to define how people should act within the organization. They’re meant to be a guide for decision-making and a way to evaluate behavior.
Three important things to consider when writing your core values are:
Define your values
Your core values shouldn’t just be a list of 5-10 words. You also have to define them. Put context around what it means to embody that value in practice.
Get input for employees at all levels of the organization. Ask if the values you chose resonate with them. Be willing to adjust in response to their feedback.
Lead by example
Reinforce values often and associate your core values with the things that your organization does as a company. For example, “We’re going to shut down for a day of charity because one of our core values is serving our community.” (Not because it looks good on the evening news.)
The ‘Core Values’ Litmus Test
Nathan says the problem with core values is that they’re often chosen for marketing purposes, when they’re meant to be internal motivators. No customer is going to go to your website, look at your core values, and decide whether or not to buy from you. Seeing “teamwork” on the side of your van doesn’t compel them to make an appointment with your techs.
“Your customers should be able to recognize or identify your core values based on the behaviors of you and your people. It's a standard of behavior, not necessarily a warm, fuzzy feeling,” he explained.
When a company makes a hiring decision (or any decision, for that matter) that is inconsistent with their values—and consistently tolerates those inconsistencies—employees see that, and they no longer feel compelled to behave in accordance with the values. The values lose their meaning when you say one thing, and do another.
Nathan says the best way to gauge a core value is the inverse reaction to a violation of one.
“What I mean by that is, if you have a claimed core value that someone violates, would you fire them for violating that core value? If the answer is no, then it's not a core value.”
With this information in mind, download these worksheets and work through them on your own. Then come together with your leadership team to discuss, refine and finalize the company vision, mission, purpose and values.
After that, it’s time to start incorporating them into your culture:
- Share internally with all employees and stakeholders
- Update your "About Us" and "Employment" pages on the company website
- Find ways to reinforce values in team norms, performance reviews, etc.
Don’t forget to evaluate and revise your mission every year, and update your vision every 3-5 years.