How To Write Effective Vision And Mission Statements

Michael Dean
How To Write Effective Vision And Mission Statements

If there’s one thing that all the analysis of the Millennial generation agrees on, it’s that working Millennials care about purpose over just their pay cheque.

“Giving your young employees a purpose will enable them to envision a future with your company … If an organisation is unable to map out a road plan, a purpose of employment, it will unfortunately notice a high 0-2 year turnover” explains Prof. Karl Moore.

Considering Millennials will make up more than 75% of the global workforce in less than five years, effectively communicating your organisation’s raison d’etre is becoming more important every day. Well written vision and mission statements can be two of your most useful assets to do so.

Along with defining purpose, these statements can also help align your organisation – speeding up decision making and lessening the chances of projects operating at odds with your company’s real goals.

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What is the difference between a vision and a mission statement?

First it’s important to clear up any potential confusion about each statement – they are not (as some people suggest) interchangeable, they are written differently and serve different purposes.

LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner wrote the best descriptions of these statements that I’ve read. Here are his definitions, followed by LinkedIn’s vision and mission:

Vision – The dream; a team’s true north. Primary objective is to inspire and create a shared sense of purpose throughout the company.

Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. 

Mission – Overarching objective of the organization; should be measurable, achievable, and ideally inspirational. Should not be used synonymously with a vision statement. A great mission statement is brief, easy to remember, minimizes the use of the word “and” (to prevent a laundry list), shouldn’t require follow-up clarifying questions when first presented, and ideally proves to be uniquely identifiable to the company, i.e. wouldn’t be confused for another company’s mission.

Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.

The easiest way to differentiate the two statements is to see the vision as the ultimate (potentially even unreachable) goal of an organisation, followed by the mission that outlines what the company would have to do consistently and excellently to make this vision a reality.

Tips and examples for writing your vision and mission statements

Now we’ve looked at the different roles of these statements let’s move on to the process of formulating our own. In contrast to the LinkedIn examples, I’m going to write vision and mission statements for a local record store to demonstate how this format suits businesses of any size.

Vision

It’s important to complete your vision statement first. Get started by writing down answers to the following questions (I’ve put my answers for the record store in italics). At this stage it’s a good time to involve a wider group in your company. You could ask all your co-founders, leadership team, or even every employee to answer these questions:

  • What are the core values you believe employees should hold? It’s always a good starting point to consider these values first. You can also think of these as the values you personally care so strongly for that you’d leave the company if they were not followed.Honesty and humility in the way we operate our business and share our opinions. Friendliness in how we work with one another and welcome our customers. Enthusiasm for music and enabling others to discover new things.
  • Ideally what customers will you have in 15 years? From the record store example above you’d quickly need to consider if you want this to be a local store or whether your ambition is to start a chain or online retailer.We will be one of the central institutions of our city’s music scene. We will contribute greatly to the vibrancy of our local community and to welcome visitors from other places.
  • Ideally what problem would you be solving for these customers? Keep in mind the 15 years time frame from the previous question and imagine what sort of problems you want to be solving for these customers. Stick to problems over exact solutions as given the timeframe your solutions are likely to be outdated by then.We will enable our customers to find the music they want on the format they want. We will help them discover new music and learn about music as an art form. We will be a platform for up-and-coming artists to perform and find their first audiences. We will give music lovers a place to meet and discuss their passion.
  • What is your business not? Your vision should be positive and not anti-something, but it can become clearer when you consider what you’re in opposition to.We are not just a shop, we do not compete on price or selection with the likes of Best Buy and Amazon. If we don’t have something a customer wants we will help them find it elsewhere. We want to provide a real-world community experience based around music.  

Once you’ve got your answers you’ll need to distill them into a single short paragraph. If you’ve collected answers from many people, try to group the answers into themes first. When writing your paragraph, keep in mind Jeff Weiner’s point about not making a laundry list.

Here’s how my record store example looked at this stage:

We value friendship and honesty. We hope to become one of the musical centres for our city where you can browse and discover music, meet friends, or hear a performance from new artists. We see ourselves as more than a shop, we focus on creating an enjoyable, community experience.

All that’s left is to turn your paragraph into a single sentence. However, unless you’re a fantastic copywriter this is likely to be the trickiest task of all.

Take your time and potentially you’ll go through 20 draft sentences until you get something that reads well and really nails what you wanted to convey when answering the earlier questions. During this process refer to George Orwell’s six elementary rules, they can be found on The Economist’s style guide page. (This will stop you writing any nonsense.)

Here’s the vision I eventually settled on for my record store:

Become one of our city’s renowned cultural institutions.

Thinking back to the original goal of a vision statement, I would hope that if you got a job in this store you’d feel a greater sense of purpose than to simply ring up and bag records.

Mission

Unlike the vision which is future-based, your mission statement should be present-based – i.e. what would you need to do brilliantly now, and for the next 15 years, to achieve your vision?

Look back at your answers to the earlier questions and pick out the most crucial elements based on how they relate to your vision.

Now transform them into two or three key objectives that are measurable and ultimately achievable. Clear objectives will enable anyone reading your mission statement to instantly understand how it will shape your business strategy over the coming years.

These were the objectives that I set, followed by how they could be measured:

  • Provide an eclectic selection of music our customers want – this is reasonably simple, we’ll find out if what we’re selling is what our customers want by whether we’re making money.
  • Introduce customers to new music through hand-picked recommendations and live performances – we could judge this on whether staff are able to upsell or cross-sell when talking to customers, whether we can attract artists and audiences to the store, or perhaps if we can grow a large mailing list for a music recommendations newsletter.
  • Create a welcoming and friendly environment that becomes a hub for the local community – this might be a little more subjective but you could still use Yelp or Google reviews as a guide. You could run initiatives to bring different sections of the community to meet in the store and judge the success based on the local press you receive.

Back to the tricky task of copywriting and getting this into one or two succinct sentences. Again, take your time and consider how this mission will be received by the rest of your company and what it would look like on your website’s About page. Is it easily comprehensible, or have you gone off on a tangent using jargon?

When I boiled down my objectives, here’s the mission I was left with:

Feed the music lover’s desire to cherish their favourite artists and discover new acts, with outstanding personal service and a friendly community setting.

To my earlier point about organisational alignment, your mission statement is not only the basis for your business strategy, it will put the reader in a state of mind that guides their day to day decision making.

For the sake of the anecdote, working at this record store you probably wouldn’t play a Spotify-algorithm-generated playlist over the stereo, nor would you shoo punters out the door for holding hour-long discussions about Radiohead’s back catalogue once you’ve read this mission statement.

In your business it might be the difference between someone wasting hundreds-of-thousands of dollars on a project and someone stopping them at the first ideation session by saying “how does this fit with our mission?”.

For the first few months of their existence I’d consider these statements to be part of a living document which you’ll discuss with colleagues, friends and customers before they’re set in stone.

As with any feedback don’t be happy with quiet or lukewarm responses, this is most likely people being too polite to tell you what they really think. Press them to find out what must be improved and make changes accordingly.

How you disseminate your finished work within your company and beyond is a topic in itself that we’ll cover in a future post, but for now I hope I’ve given you a good guide to get started or review your existing statements. Now I feel like actually starting that record store!

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