One of the leadership habits that I commonly see is a tendency for small to medium sized business owners and leaders to leap into action - focusing on growing sales, establishing production and hiring staff - without spending enough time on business strategy. There are a number of reasons why leaders do that, but one that stands out is how business strategy thinking seems to have been hijacked over the last 20 years or so by “big corporate” jargon - including the widespread but often confusing use of expressions like “Vision Statement” and “Mission Statement”.
Many business owners and leaders seem to think that if they don’t have a Vision or Mission Statement for their business they are doing something really wrong - and then they get worried when they don’t know how to come up with one or both. My advice is: don’t panic, have a good think about what really works for your business, and then incorporate that process into your early strategic business planning.
So, are Vision and Mission statements valuable for small to medium sized businesses, or just something that only “big corporates” have ? The answer is a qualified yes, but it requires focused effort to develop and implement a strong, clear and positive statement for either purpose, and it's important to distinguish between the two. So let's start by exploring what good Vision and Mission Statements look like, and how they differ and might support each other.
Your Vision Statement is Your Business Dream
Start out by imagining how your business will, in time, influence or transform your community or society - that’s your Vision. It is your ultimate goal and your guiding light in tough times, when you and your team need to remind yourself why you are working late or dealing with setbacks. And if your business succeeds, its Vision will be its enduring legacy.
Here are some prominent examples:
Google: "To provide access to the world's information in one click."
TED: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.”
Obviously even the most inspiring Vision Statement is only useful, however, if you do something - which is where a Mission Statement might help.
Your Mission Statement is What Your Business Does
This is what your business will do each day (and potentially also with or for whom). It will clearly define what business you are “in” (and what you “aren’t”) for the foreseeable future, on your way towards achieving your vision. This will help you and your team to focus on doing what is necessary, and avoid what is not.
Here are Mission Statements for the same companies that I used for our earlier examples:
Google: “To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
TED: “Spread ideas.”
Of course a Mission Statement only makes sense if it is relevant to your business goals - which is where your Vision Statement should “light your way”.
Either or Both ?
Whie I believe that good Vision and Mission Statements can complement each other, I do appreciate that some business owners and leaders find it easier to focus more on one than the other, depending on their leadership and communication styles. The most important thing is to always do what works for you and your business, and always keep your “what you do” and aspirational goals clearly in mind.
Using Vision and Mission Statements to Influence Others
While I’ve focused so far on how business owners and leaders might think personally about Vision and Mission, remember that - properly used - they can be powerful tools to attract, engage and align your staff, and they can also help differentiate your business from your competitors when you are dealing with potential customers and suppliers. So it is important they be aligned with and support your Brand.
Adding an ethical dimension, there is ample evidence that employees, customers and business partners prefer to work for and with businesses that have lofty ideals (within their Vision) and act nobly (within their Mission).
A Third Way - Our Simplified “Purpose Statement”
At the Advisory Collective, we believe that Purpose is a fundamental business principle that should be clearly established from day one - its your business "why" in one statement. So it is arguably more effective and efficient to combine the elements of both Vision and Mission Statements into a single Purpose Statement instead.
For example, Steve Jobs began the journey of Apple when he was only 22 by saying;
“Our whole company is founded on the principle that there is something very different that happens with one person, one computer... what we’re trying to do is remove the barrier of having to learn to use a computer.”
His Vision was a world where people didn’t have to “learn to use” computers like they did until the early 1980s, by studying computer science - and Apple’s Mission was to “remove the barrier”, by providing packaged hardware and software that could be used intuitively.
It’s easy to look back now at Apple’s journey and see how this Purpose remains the foundation of what makes their business so successful.
Whatever You Do, Your Messaging Matters
It's really important to keep your statements simple, succinct and “honest”, ie they are completely meaningful to you as the business owner and leader, and can be communicated easily to your people, customers and suppliers.
I've Got My Statement, Now What?
Your Purpose (or your Vision and Mission Statements, if you prefer) and your Values are key foundations - or maybe even the "capstones" of your Strategic Plan. Your Purpose will determine the “why” of your business which then informs your "what", whereas your Values guide behaviours and create the right culture of the business so that you can deliver the strategy - they are a key part of your "how".
In my next post in this series I will be exploring Values in more depth.
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