Mission Or Vision: What’s The Difference, And Why They Matter To Your Team
I sat at the meeting table trying not to stare in panic at the five people who were looking everywhere but at me or each other. To say it felt awkward is a massive understatement. We were in deep trouble before we even started, and all of us looked like we would rather be having dental surgery than be there.
I had pulled out all the stops with a full spread of food to take us through the morning- cakes and pastries, fruit, juice and coffee. But my new senior management team were acting as if I had offered them poisoned tripe.
I reminded myself what I had learned about their situation already. Their previous director had been a notorious tyrant and a bully. From what I could gather, no one would have been surprised if he had indeed brought poisoned tripe for lunch. These people sitting at the table in front of me had previously been his ‘whipping boys’.
I decided my best bet was to be as humble and honest as possible. I talked about the things that were most important to me as a leader, such as integrity and transparency.
I was clear that I knew that I succeeded or failed based on how well I created an environment that let them get on with their best work. I was adamant that I wanted us all to succeed, and to enjoy our jobs and get fulfilment from them as we did so.
I didn’t hold back, though, when I talked about the challenges we faced. Major legislative changes were going to change the way our profession operated. I could already see the appalling state of the department’s administration, which had been badly neglected by the previous director. Our ability to get things done would depend on sorting out the basic foundations of it first and foremost.
What I was talking about here was our mission, and how I was talking about it was by letting my new team know what my values were as a leader. I also made it clear we had some very challenging goals to set.
I knew it was not going to be as easy as a rah-rah speech to suddenly transform this traumatised and neglected team of highly trained professionals into a powerhouse of resilience and industry, but I knew we had to start somewhere. I figured that agreeing in writing what was important to us to achieve and how we would get there was essential to a solid start. We needed a mission statement we could all get behind.
“Mission statements […] have a purpose. The purpose [is] to force management to make hard decisions about what the company [stands] for. A hard decision means giving up one thing to get another.” –Seth Godin
For me, a mission statement lets my team and I state in writing what is most important to us collectively. We cannot do everything. Many of us have particular interests or enjoy pet projects, but they may not be part of the priorities that we have all identified that are needed to meet our overall goals.
It is good for all of us to have a constant reminder of why we get up every day to come and do what we do. It also helps us stay focused and not drift into lesser priorities or favourite topics.
Forcing yourself, as a leader, to make hard decisions about what is and is not important in your work is essential to leading an effective team. What you decide not to do is just as important as what you prioritise. It shows the world what your team stands for. When all team members know this, and agree it, focus and performance improves. It also has positive effects on morale and culture.
Develop your mission statement with your team
It requires a thorough, well-led conversation about what is important to all of you about the work that you do. It forces you to create some parameters as well, and there can be some good debates about what doesn’t make it into the statement.
If it just appears out of nowhere, your struggle to get everyone signed up to it in principle as well as in practice is going to be real. That’s why I sat at that table with my senior team, surrounded by snacks, and forced myself to have the frank conversation with them about where we were, and how far it was from where we needed to be.
Creating a mission statement, describing values, and setting goals brings a team together into a cohesive, effective whole. This in turn increases productivity and morale. Not doing the work here opens you up to competing priorities, wasteful action, and confused teams.
Here are a few great mission statements from some of the world’s most successful companies:
To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. –Google
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. –Patagonia
Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online. –Amazon
Kaiser Permanente exists to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.
You don’t have to create a perfect snowflake of a statement in order for it to mean something, as long as what you end up with feels authentic and accurate. If there are companies or organisations in your industry that have mission statements that you can relate to, there is no shame in starting with those!
In fact, here is a whole website dedicated just to listing mission statements by industry.
Mission or vision: What’s the difference?
It is easy to confuse a mission statement with a vision, or vision statement. This definition says it best for me:
“A vision statement is a vivid idealized description of a desired outcome that inspires, energizes and helps you create a mental picture of your target. It could be a vision of a part of your life, or the outcome of a project or goal.
… vision statements are often confused with mission statements, but they serve complementary purposes.” –From: timethoughts.com
A vision statement is aspirational.
Your mission and vision statements, as well as your values and goals, are the spiritual guide to your team and its work. Setting these out nails your colours to the mast. They are your flag flying, your logo emblazoned, and your journey-mapping for all to see.
Take the time to set these out, together. Without them you will be rudderless. With them, you will always have a North Star that helps you and your team do your best work.
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Author: Elizabeth Shassere
Founder and CEO of Textocracy Ltd.