#224 from R&D Innovator Volume 5, Number 7          July 1996

Mission or Vision?
by George L. Morrisey

Mr. Morrisey is a management consultant with the Morrisey Group, Merritt Island, Florida (800-535-8202).  He is the recipient of the Cavett, the National Speakers Association’s highest award, and he is author of the three-book series, Morrisey on Planning (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1996), as well as Creating Your Future:  Personal Strategic Planning for Professionals (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1992).

Which comes first, mission or vision?  This is almost like the “chicken and egg” situation.  I can make an equally good case for going either way.  However, since many of the questions you will be asking yourselves, in connection with the development of your mission statement, have visionary implications, and since my definition of mission has a broader interpretation than that of many other writers on strategic planning, I have chosen to deal with the development of vision following mission.  I feel that, for many organizations, there is a value in separating the two, even though they are closely related.

What is Vision and Why is it Important?

Vision is a representation of what you believe the future of your organization should look like to your customers, employees, owners and other important stakeholders.  Vision is almost entirely intuitive in its origin.  It is an outgrowth of the values and convictions of your management team.

A well-stated vision statement:

  Is brief, preferably under ten words

  Is catchy and easy to remember

  Is inspiring and a challenge to future achievement

  Is believable and consistent with your strategic values and your mission

  Serves as a rallying point with all important stakeholders

  Clearly states the essence of what your organization must become

  Allows for flexibility and creativity in execution

How Do We Develop Our Vision?

I will approach the development of your vision as an effort completely separate from the development of your mission, although you may find it more useful to develop them together.

Here are some questions designed to get each of your management team members thinking about how you should be looking at the future.

1.  What do I see as the key to the future for our organization?

2.  What unique contribution should we be making in the future?

3.  What would make me excited about being a part of this organization in the future?

4.  What values need to be stressed?

5.  What are or should be our core competencies?

6.  What should be our positions on such things as customers, markets, profitability, growth, technology, quality, employees, etc.?

7.  What do I see as our greatest opportunity for growth?

For this effort to be effective, you and your management team need to allow your feelings to come out.  As with mission development, this process needs to take place away from your organization’s premises in a setting where creative ideas can flow freely.  Developing a vision is an intuitive or creative process.  You need to respond to these questions initially as though you were looking at the best of all possible worlds.  Assume that nothing is impossible.  It’s a lot easier to tone down an impractical or unrealistic statement than it is to expand one that is ultra-conservative.  Remember, you are creating a vision of what you would like your organization to become in the future, not necessarily what it is today.

I urge you to use a skilled facilitator in this process which includes:

1.  Having each team member write their answers to these questions (or a modified version of them) independently, in advance of your meeting, without discussing their answers with other team members.  This enables your cogitative thinkers to be on equal footing with your spontaneous thinkers and encourages the sharing of different points of view.

2.  Having all team members share their answers to one question at a time at a meeting called for that purpose, with the answers posted on a chart pad or other visible recording instrument.  The ground rules here are, of course, that no judgmental comments may be made about anyone’s responses until all have been presented, although questions for clarification are permitted.

3.  Discussing the answers to each question once everyone has responded, with the objective of reaching consensus (or as close to it as possible) on key words or phrases that reflect the organization’s future perspective on that particular question.  This can be one of the most creative discussions your team might have as you focus on factors that will challenge you to even greater heights.

4.  Reviewing answers to all questions to reach agreement on the relatively few key words or phrases that need to be included in your vision statement.

5.  Drafting a vision statement that meets the criteria identified earlier.  You can probably do this with your entire team participating since it is much briefer than your mission statement.  However, having a few members of the team make an initial draft for review and modification by the total team is an option if time is limited.

6.  Reviewing the draft with other key stakeholders to make certain others view it in the same light as the team that created it, making modifications as appropriate.

Here are a few examples of vision statements that could have been developed through a process similar to this.  Some of these are paraphrased versions of existing company statements while others are speculative.  Yours should be original to you and a clear representation of your present and future commitments.

“We will be seen as the high-value supplier in each market we serve.”

“We will produce any product and enter any market where we can become a dominant supplier in our industry.”

“We will be the best company in our industry in terms of customer satisfaction.”

“We will become a major global presence in our industry.”

“We are and will remain World Class in customer satisfaction and quality.”

“We will continually cheat yesterday’s customers by being so much better tomorrow.”

“In our business, innovation, fun and profit go hand-in-hand.”

In Summary

  Your strategic vision is a representation of what you believe the future should look like for your organization in the eyes of your customers, employees, owners and other important stakeholders.

  Your vision statement should be brief, catchy, easy to remember, inspiring, and a challenge to future achievement.

  It should focus on what you want to become, not necessarily on what you are now.

  It can be developed separate from or as a derivation of your mission statement.

  Your vision needs to be communicated or displayed in a wide variety of ways to ensure that it is remembered by, and inspiring to, your important stakeholders.

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©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.