What’s the difference between a Vision and a Mission Statement?

Recently I was contacted by a member of our HRUprising Community who suggested that the terms vision and mission were quite confusing and that it would be a great HRUprising Podcast topic to try and address. I agreed and thought it would be quite a simple one to deal with until I started investigating and realised how confusing it could be. Links to the related download and Podcast Episode are at the bottom of this page.

How do Vision, Mission, and Strategic Priorities interlink?

Well, my research showed me that Vision and Mission are often confused. However, a vision statement should be about a long-term, aspirational future vision. It tends to be a statement of an organisations overarching aspirations of what it hopes to achieve or to become.

Here are some examples of vision statements:

  • Disney: To make people happy.
  • Facebook: To make the world more open and connected.
  • Tesla: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
  • Alzheimers Society: To create a world without Alzheimers.

What should a Vision Statement Do?

A vision statement should:

  • Define the businesses optimal desired future state
  • Provide guidance/inspiration for the business in 3, 5 or 10 years time
  • Be written succinctly in an inspirational manner that makes it easy for all employees to repeat it at any given time.

Now to my mind, this is very much like explaining the purpose of what you are here to do. Certainly, I think that this is one reason why we get so confused between Vision and Mission. Because if the Vision is aspirational and motivational it should create a sense of purpose that inspires them. Yet if I were to ask you what your mission at work was, you may well interpret it as what you are here to achieve or what the purpose of your role is. So, I wonder whether that is one reason why we get confused between the two – because everyday terminology uses the terms interchangeably.

Internal and External Visions

Another reason why we may get confused with these terms is because companies can have externally or internally facing visions. I would say that ideally, we wouldn’t have both because that might be confusing. However, external or internal visions may be ‘chunked down’ versions of each other. What I mean by this is that we could have a Vision statement that appears altruistic and provides great external PR or it could be more internally focused and only suitable for internal consumption but motivates staff to perform at their best.

External Altruistic Vision Statements

  • Oxfam: “A just world without poverty.”
  • CIPD: “We want to create a world of work that’s more human.”

Internal Vision Statements 

  • Nike – “Crush Adidas”
  • Honda – “To destroy Yamaha”

Both of the internal vision statements above are alleged to date back to the ’60s and ’70s. Perhaps this is a more dated approach? After all, the downside of having a vision focused on a particular competitor in today’s fast-changing world is that you have a greater chance of missing the real competition. This may be technology change or completely new competitors which may slip through unnoticed.

Another option is an internal product vision. In the early 2000’s I worked for the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and they developed a simple but powerful product vision for their blood pressure product. The vision was simply “Displace Nifedipine”. The Pfizer drug was a cleaner version of Nifedipine which had 60% of the marketplace so this became the mantra. It was a very successful strategy as all the sales representatives could easily remember and buy into it. As a result, the Pfizer drug captured a huge amount of the market within about 18 months.

What Vision does the CIPD have?

For my HR readers, let’s take a look at the vision from our membership body in the UK – the CIPD and see what they have come up with. You may have noticed I lifted just the first sentence of the vision further up the page.

CIPD Vision:

“We want to create a world of work that’s more human. By changing hearts and minds about the purpose of work, the value of people and the role of people professionals, we’ll help ensure that work creates value for everyone

We’ll do this by:

  • influencing policy and practice to convince decision-makers that when you put people first in decisions about work, everyone stands to gain
  • establishing an internationally recognised gold standard for HR and people development, to ensure that the people profession is universally trusted and valued as a principles-led, evidence-based and outcomes-driven community of experts who can make work generate value for everyone.”

So these guys are setting a vision in the first sentence and getting more specific about how they will do it in the second. They go on further to expand (breaking the concise rule!) as you can see below. However, they haven’t called it a Mission Statement possibly because these have fallen into disrepute. Instead, they use the term ‘Purpose’ which I like because it is more plain English. They do however go into more detail about how they will do it and what their audience is. This definitely takes them into Mission statement territory based on my research (No wonder we are all confused!).

What is a Mission Statement?

Okay, so what really is the difference between the two? From my reading, although confused and sometimes used interchangeably, mission and vision have different purposes. The vision statement describes where the organisation wants to be in the future whereas the Mission is more specific about what the organisation is here to achieve in the present here and now (1-3 years). According to Chris Bart, a professor of strategy and governance at McMaster University, a commercial mission statement consists of three essential components:

  1. Market
  2. Product
  3. Distinction – how it is different

Put simply a mission statement should answer:

  • What the business does
  • Who it is for
  • How it does it

What are some examples of Mission Statements from successful businesses?

  • Spotify: To unlock the potential of human creativity—by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.
  • Disney: To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services, and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.
  • Amazon: We seek to be Earth’s most customer-centric company for four primary customer sets: consumers, sellers, enterprises, and content creators.

Notice that each of these examples indicates where the organisation will compete (what industry it is in) and how it will compete (what it will do to be different from other organisations). The mission statement conveys to stakeholders why the organisation exists. It explains how it creates value for the market or the larger community.

Because it is more specific, the mission statement is more actionable than the vision statement. The mission statement leads to strategic goals. Strategic goals are the broad goals the organisation will try to achieve. By describing why the organisation exists, and where and how it will compete, the mission statement allows leaders to define a coherent set of goals that fit together to support the mission.

The Actus Vision and Mission

The activity of researching this topic made me review our own Actus Vision and Mission. I thought it may be helpful to show them together to illustrate the differences:

Vision: Enabling people professionals to deliver greater value into their organisations
Product Vision:
To be the performance and talent management provider of choice for people professionals
Mission: We strive to deliver the simplest yet most complete performance and talent management solution enabling people professionals to deliver greater business value through increased engagement, productivity, and retention.

Once we have defined our vision and mission we can then break it down into actionable SMART objectives which should fall out of this process. Essentially, these are the ‘How’ we achieve the first step of this mission and we can chunk these down to make it clear and specific for different areas of the business.

In Summary

So, we have gone into a lot of detail about the difference between vision and mission – the reality is that there is overlap between the two. Vision Statements are about the longer-term future and purpose of the organisation. Mission is more about the here and now including the market and differentiators. Strategic objectives or priorities should fall out of these and from those business/department priorities out of those. They really should all align and get more specific/SMART as we get closer to the individual. Values are about the behaviours and culture of the organisation and a topic for a future or podcast.

I am aware that some readers may have read this because they want to run a Vision/Mission/Strategic Objectives workshop within their own business. I have therefore created a simple facilitators guide or agenda that you can download/access from the button below or you can get in touch if you would like one of our Actus Consultants to facilitate a Vision/Mission workshop in your organisation.

Listen to the related HR Uprising Podcast: Vision, Mission, and Purpose – What’s the Difference?

Resource: Vision into Action Facilitation Outline

Contact us to arrange a Vision Facilitation Day