by Merlin Hernandez

There are many organizations that place mission statements on little brass plaques in the lobby and they sound good but provide no real direction to the operation of the business. These are usually poorly defined mission or vision statements that are so loose that both employees and customers see them as window dressing of no real significance. A company mission is supposed to outline its broad purpose which would include where the firm sees itself in the long run and how the business will avoid the pitfalls to getting there. The mission is the basis for the development of specific high quality quantitative targets that measure performance. Mission statements define the business of the firm and may include primary point(s) of differentiation for competitive advantage.

The mission statement that is rife with superlatives comes from a lack of understanding of what a corporate/business mission is intended to convey and the process for arriving at it. A mission originates in carefully defined business or even personal goals of business owners to communicate the purpose and direction of the business. The mission informs strategic choices and is really the business strategy from the perspective of customer need– what we can do for you. It is also important to note that the mission is a living organism that must change as the business accommodates change to reflect new needs to be fulfilled, new types of customers, or different delivery systems dictated by market forces or a changing environment.

A vision is that aspect of the mission that forms the long-term basis of the corporate culture from organizational values to product functionality. The vision provides the impetus for all aspects of operations to direct both the strategic and tactical perspectives. A vision is essentially the architectural side of the business model while the mission might be seen as the engineering function. Sometimes too strict an adherence to the strategies of the mission, which defines corporate policies, can maintain a narrow focus at the expense of emerging economic and social realities. A well-articulated vision can widen the policy scope beyond purely economic performance to allow for strategic adjustments to emergent trends.

A common misunderstanding is having a purely product vision that maintains a narrow focus on sales or service. Mission statements emphasize the “highest quality” or “best service culture” as if these will occur in isolation from other business values and activities. The mission and its vision will also need to encompass other roles and responsibilities of the organization for long-term comparative advantage. Central to a firm’s vision are issues of broad stakeholder value, ethics, social responsibility, and governance.