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Let’s Talk Visions First – Then Missions

Let's Talk Visions First - Then Missions | Parking Lot Test

The vision and mission are two separate and distinct components of your most important leadership tool: the strategic plan. And unlike many others who work in strategic planning, I’m a stickler when it comes to clients understanding the purpose of a vision statement and a mission statement. When someone says, “I don’t care what you call it: mission or vision—they mean the same thing.” My response is, “No they don’t. They serve two very different roles in the plan, for the leadership team, and for all the employees.”

Let’s talk about visions first:

  1. A vision that works creates a clear picture in every person’s mind when they hear it.

    During a client’s initial planning session, I asked the senior team what success looked like to them. I asked what they’d like to accomplish to become a successful restaurant once again. After they debated and struggled with several ideas, the owner leaned back, sighed, and said, “I just want the parking lot full of cars five nights a week!” That was it! That simple statement, that simple desire clarified an image, and a picture of success for her and every person in that room. Here’s the vision they created:
    By November 1, 201X, Cedrick’s parking lot will be full five nights a week with the vehicles of customers who are enjoying a memorable dining experience. (Client name has been changed.)
    When you hear that, what picture do you see in your mind? What do you anticipate the chef, wait staff, busboys, and bartenders see? Because of the simplicity of this vision, any employee could look out into the parking lot and determine if it was full and if they were moving towards their vision. If there were empty parking spaces, each employee would know he or she had better ramp-up service to ensure current customers were well served so they not only wanted to return, but they would tell others about Cedrick’s fabulous restaurant as well.

  2. A vision that works is concise and clear.

    It can be easily understood and remembered by everyone in the organization. Two classic examples of concise visions are:
    Number 1 or 2; fix, sell, or close. (Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric)
    2000 Stores by 2000 (Starbucks – Achieved 2200 stores by the end of 1999)
    My rule is that a vision should be no more than one sentence long – and it can’t be a run-on sentence. The above examples are short but powerful. They were also tremendously successful.

  3. A vision that works can also answer the question, “How do we know when we get there?”

    Re-read the visions listed above. Do you see how you could easily track progress towards or away from these visions? We could easily count the number of empty parking lot spaces. We could track our position in our respective industries. We could track the number of stores we had opened. Most of us have never worked for any of these companies, yet we can understand what they they wanted to accomplish because their visions were so clear. These vision statements worked because they were clear and focused. They worked because they were tangible and measurable. They worked because they allowed all of the employees to “see” the future. They were clear. They were concise. They worked.

Let's Talk Visions First - Then Missions

So, what are mission statements?

Unlike the vision statement, which creates a clear picture of what you want to accomplish or become (a target or goal), the mission statement, clarifies what you do as an organization — why you exist — who you serve. That’s its job. The mission statement clarifies for everyone who works with you, and those with whom you interact, just exactly what business you’re in. I tell my clients, “Your 87 year old Aunt Clara needs to be able to understand this. If your elderly relative – who doesn’t work with you – understands what your organization’s mission is – your employees and leadership team will be clear on what it is you do – and don’t do as well. Keep it simple.”

  1. A good mission statement clarifies why you exist.

    Many organizations have nebulous mission statements that sound nice but only serve to confuse everyone as to what they’re supposed to be doing and who they’re supposed to be serving or supporting:
    We are committed to delivering the highest-quality, state-of-the-art services and products that support our customers while servicing them with honesty, integrity, and professionalism.
    That’s all well and good, but what do you actually do? This statement provides no clarity as to what the organization does, who it serves, or what it produces. It puts no “book-ends” on the organization’s focus or offerings. In fact, the above sample mission statement is simply a waste of space. I hope every organization is committed to providing the highest-quality services and products, to supporting its customers, and to servicing them with honesty, integrity, and professionalism. There’s nothing helpful to the leadership team or employees in this mission statement. If you shared this mission with your Aunt Clara, she’d probably say something like, “Well isn’t that nice?” and she’d still be confused as to what you do.

  2. A good mission statement is clear, simple, and understood by anyone who hears it.

    Now here’s an example of a solid mission statement:
    The Board of Supervisors of Elections for Washington County’s overall mission is to assure that all eligible citizens are provided the opportunity to vote in local, state, and federal elections, and to monitor and verify the voting procedures in Washington County. (Washington County, Maryland)
    That’s it. It’s clear. It’s well written and it states very simply who it services and why its exists. If you worked there and shared this mission with your Aunt Clara, she’d probably say, “Well you’ve got a very important job then don’t you?”

To wrap up:

Vision and mission statements have two very different meanings and serve two very different purposes. If you do not delineate between the two, believe me, you’ll end up creating a leadership nightmare. You will not have a unified focus on what specifically your organization is trying to accomplish together, and you’ll creep into services and offerings outside your intended mission. Your leadership team will start to fracture as you each justify your actions as you’ve interpreted the vision and mission. Why set your leadership team up for confusion and conflicts? Create clarity with your leadership team and set your organization up for success. Get clear on who you want to serve and how. Then define how far you want to go.

Clarify your mission and then define your vision. Get clear. Your Aunt Clara, your leadership team, and your employees will thank you.


Copyright MMXI – Liz Weber, CMC, CSP – Weber Business Services, LLC – www.WBSLLC.com +1.717.597.8890

Liz supports clients with strategic and succession planning, as well as leadership training and executive coaching.

Liz Weber CMCLiz Weber, CMC CSP

Liz Weber coaches, consults, and trains leadership teams. She specializes in strategic and succession planning, and leadership development.

Liz is one of fewer than 100 people in the U.S. to hold both the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designations.

Contact Liz’s office at +1.717.597.8890 for more info on how Liz can help you, or click here to have Liz’s office contact you.

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7 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Visions First – Then Missions”

  1. Thank you so much for this blog. It compelled me to look again at my vision and mission. I love these quotes:

    1)“As a leader my job is not to directly produce results. It is to create the conditions (environment) that will galvanize the energy of others to facilitate sustainable collective success.” –– Rajeev Peshararla

    2) “I think of myself as less of a leader and more as an architect of an environment that enables employees to come up with their own ideas and where employees can grow the culture and evolve it over time.” –CEO Zappos

    My vision and mission are very much in sync with these quote.

    Last but not least, I do not ever recall seeing someone publish (with such simplicity and clarity) the difference between vision and mission.

    Great Job!!!

  2. Liz Weber says:

    Great quotes Ray. Thanks for sharing them and for your compliments on my writing. I look forward to staying connected. L

  3. Congratulations on a good posting, Liz. Whether in my company, which helps professional firms transform business systems in order to sustain diversity, or in the non-profit boards on which I serve, vision is always wide and mission options are plentiful. You articulate well the difference between vision and mission, and also make clear the importance focusing by choosing with clarity.

    1. Liz Weber says:

      Good morning Karen and thanks for the kudos on differentiating visions & missions. I’ve seen the success my clients have had by doing so – the focus, clarity, common language among managers, etc. I had to grit my teeth last week as I sat in a new client’s work session with another consultant who said “Vision/mission – whatever you want to call it…” Ah, but bite my tongue not for long. That’s a new client of mine now and we will clarify the difference 🙂 Best of luck to you in the work you do Karen – and thanks for all you do in sustaining diversity and your non-profit board work. L

  4. Great article!! I have tried to convince people not to reverse these words for decades.

    1. So glad we’re of like minds on this. Thanks for your help in getting other leaders to understand this critical difference!

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Posted by Liz Weber CMC on August 11, 2011 in Strategic Planning, WBS and tagged , ,