What Comes First Vision or Mission?

By Ryan Rieches
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Actually neither – purpose comes first, followed by vision and mission. Corporate purpose or “why we exist” should be at the core of an organization’s guiding statements.

Our research has confirmed that most corporate execs are unsure of the difference between vision or mission, purpose or cause. Most CEOs agree that these types of guiding statements are necessary, but a company-specific model or set of best practices to build upon has not been clearly defined. 

Don’t let your business be like the many others that have fallen into this gray area of uncertainty. Instead learn the individual value of clearly defined purpose, vision and mission statements. Doing so will enable you to guide and align internal teams, which is necessary to establish a deep emotional connection and provide the intellectual direction that team members are seeking. Start by following this model: 

A PURPOSE statement answers WHY we exist
A VISION statement answers WHAT we aim to achieve
A MISSION statement answers HOW we plan to achieve this vision

Vision and mission are very commonly misunderstood. An easy way to remember the difference between vision and mission is to just add -ary at the end of each term. For example: A visionary is one who sees into the future and can visualize a clear destination. A missionary is one who helps realize that vision. Make sense? 

Defining Purpose, Vision and Mission with an Example

After a successful beta launch in San Francisco and Chicago, Uber was ready to disrupt the world of the traditional taxi industry. As the company began to add employees, drivers and business partners, it was time to clarify its intentions by defining its why (purpose), what (vision) and how (mission). 

Here are Uber’s original guiding statements:

Purpose:  Evolve the way the world moves. 

Vision:  Acquire 40% market share for paid rides in key US metropolitan markets.

Mission: By seamlessly connecting riders through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities and more business for drivers.

Each statement provides specific clarity and direction. 

The company’s purpose (why we exist) communicates the emotional connection of being part of a disruptive new idea that will benefit the world. This is a very inspirational concept, and I’m sure it was beneficial in attracting the type of talent required to upend an entire industry. 

The vision (what we aim to achieve) is very straightforward and clarifies the business goal. Because the vision is measurable, attainable, and single-minded, the company is able to monitor and communicate its progress, which can be extremely motivating. 

The mission (how we plan to achieve the vision) outlines the aspirational depiction of the key customer benefits and differentiating initiatives. Note that in this example, there are two audiences that benefit: the rider and the driver.

The combination of these three statements tell a clear, complete and compelling story – each working together. This framework actually gives team members more freedom. When the entire team is clear on purpose, vision and mission, management can rely on people doing the right thing without an extensive set of controls. The clarity of direction is firmly established yet individual creativity and breakthrough innovation can be achieved and rewarded. 

The importance of keeping your guiding statements current

In JFK’s famous speech, he said “before this decade is out, we will land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.” The goal was clear, everyone involved was focused on achieving it, and they did. Similarly, the clarity of Uber’s purpose, vision and mission statements were very effective as the team knew the destination ahead and they quickly achieved it. In this case, new statements become necessary to guide their aspirations and growing teams. In 2016 and 2018, Uber made updates to its vision and mission. 

Although Uber no longer publishes their guiding statements, leadership has publicly communicated the following updates.

Purpose:  Evolve the way the world moves. 

Vision:  Smarter transportation with fewer cars and greater access. Transportation that’s safer, cheaper, and more reliable; transportation that creates more job opportunities and higher incomes for drivers.

Mission:  We ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.

Note that they didn’t change their purpose statement as it’s still very relevant. This example illustrates our belief as well – a purpose statement is such a big idea that it could last forever as it may never be fully achievable.

What did change, however, is that within a few years Uber had surpassed its goal of 40% in the US. They currently have 69% market share (2019) for passenger transport. The company also rapidly expanded internationally, now operating in over 60 countries around the globe. 

Going beyond passenger transportation, they introduced a number of innovative new services. This includes UberEats, which has a 25% market share in the food delivery industry. 

The new vision extends beyond cars and into smarter transportation, such as UberAir and UberElevate, which will provide short flights using VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft. Once again, the statement benefits two audiences: the rider and the driver.

Combined with the resilient purpose statement, the new mission and vision statements will provide Uber team members the right balance of clarity, direction and freedom to lead their industry.

Recommendations on Developing Guiding Statements

Rather than relying on one statement to do all the work, use the three statements (purpose, vision and mission) to each serve a unique and clear duty. This structure provides the opportunity for each statement to be concise, single-minded and memorable. It’s key to remember that these statements tell a complete story together and don’t live in isolation. 

Developing a Purpose Statement

Purpose (why we exist) is bigger and deeper than any business goal. When an organization has a clear purpose, it attracts talented personnel, strategic alliances, and loyal customers.

Guiding Criteria for developing a purpose statement:

  • Not a business purpose – instead focus on people, either internal team or customer-driven
  • Non-competitive – other organizations could have a similar version
  • Statement could be relevant forever – might never be attainable
  • Creates a desire for collegial teamwork – bigger than the individual
  • So motivating that people are excited to get up in the morning and charge the day
  • If possible,speak to the human soul

Examples of Purpose Statements

Merck
To preserve and improve human life. 

Disney
To create one of the most special memories in a person’s life

3M
To solve unsolved problems innovatively. 

Mary Kay
To give unlimited opportunity to women. 

LensCrafters
To give the gift of sight to those who have the least and need us the most. 

Microsoft
T
o empower every person and every organization to achieve more. 

Twitter
To give everyone the ability to be heard, seen and share their thoughts and experiences as they happen.

Developing a Vision Statement

A vision statement (what we aim to achieve) is a depiction of a desired result that motivates, energizes, and helps an organization describe its destination. 

Guiding criteria for developing a vision statement:

  • Measurable – how would we know if progress is being made
  • Attainable – must be able to take it seriously
  • Inspiring – must engage people emotionally
  • Cultural – must fit with the organization’s unique style
  • Single-minded – must be focused
  • Vivid – must be clear and easily understood

Examples of Vision Statements

WalMart
Become a $125 billion company by the year 2000.

Microsoft
A computer on every desk and in every home; all running Microsoft software.

LensCrafters
We will be the best at helping the world see better.

GE
Become number one or two in every market we serve and revolutionize this company to have the strengths of a big company combined with the leanness and agility of a small company.  

Developing a Mission Statement

A mission statement (how we will achieve our vision) is an aspirational depiction of your key customer benefits and differentiating initiatives.

Guiding criteria for developing a mission statement:

  • Focus on the primary strategies or initiatives and make sure they are clear enough so people can understand and become motivated by them. 
  • Don’t try to pack everything in as it will become too burdensome and ultimately forgettable. 
  • Focus on an encompassing idea(s) that ties back to your vision.

Examples of Vision Statements 

Google
To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Merck
To discover, develop and provide innovative products and services that save and improve lives around the world.

Facebook
To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Intel
Delight our customers, employees and shareholders by relentlessly delivering the platform and technology advancements that become essential to the way we work and live.

Amazon
To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

As you might have noticed in these individual examples, although they follow the criteria outlined, they don’t follow the model of purpose, vision and mission working together. This is a missed opportunity and why we at BrandingBusiness will continue to be passionate about communicating this very effective model of developing guiding statements.