The Business-Altering Difference Between Vision and Mission

This post was originally published on Lisa's blog here.

My inner Isis (you’ll remember her from my Goddess of Vision post) is pretty ticked off, and she’s been that way since Thursday when I had a conversation that went something like this…

Me: Can you articulate your vision for the organization?

Him: Yes, we have a vision statement.

Me: All I see is a mission statement.

Him: Same thing.

Me: Aaaaaaak! – pain, searing pain – please! for Zeus’s sake stop the pain! or just poke my eye out with his lightning bolt while you’re at it why don’t you…!!!

Um, ok so perhaps that’s a bit melodramatic and I didn’t actually say that out loud – but it’s an accurate depiction of my inner response!  It has never failed to astonish me that leaders have such a difficult time understanding the difference between Vision and Mission when it comes to their businesses.

Many moons ago I taught leadership training for the Baxter Institute, and one of the things I was able to focus on was helping our corporate leaders understand the difference between the two, and then distill them down to objectives, strategies and tactics.

You can’t be in business without a mission, but it’s your vision that makes all the difference.

So, my mission for this post is to help you understand why this is true… Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to never confuse the two again if I am successful in my mission. Are you game?

Ok, let’s look at one organization that I believe portrays the difference between the two beautifully - The World Wildlife Fund.

Let’s take a look at their Mission Statement (Which they have written to include their strategies, objectives and a measurable goal):

WWF’s mission is the conservation of nature.

Using the best available scientific knowledge and advancing that knowledge where we can, we work to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth and the health of ecological systems by…”

Strategies:

  • protecting natural areas and wild populations of plants and animals, including endangered species;
  • promoting sustainable approaches to the use of renewable natural resources; and
  • promoting more efficient use of resources and energy and the maximum reduction of pollution.

 

Objectives:

  • We are committed to reversing the degradation of our planet’s natural environment
  • (…And we are committed) to building a future in which human needs are met in harmony with nature

 

Goal

  • By 2020 WWF will conserve 19 of the world’s most important natural places and significantly change global markets to protect the future of nature.

Great – I think by reading that we all get a pretty clear understanding of what the organization stands for and what they will work to accomplish.

Now, if you’re someone who believes in this type of mission you are probably interested in what they’re doing and attracted to the organization.  You may even decide to donate to their efforts or contribute a bit more to help Leonardo DiCaprio save the tigers.  And really, wouldn’t all of our inner goddesses like to help Leo in any way that we can…? Ahem…yes, you’re right, I digress.

Now let’s take a look at their Vision Statement, and see what happens…

“We seek to save a planet, a world of life. Reconciling the needs of human beings and the needs of others that share the Earth, we seek to practice conservation that is humane in the broadest sense. We seek to instill in people everywhere a discriminating, yet unabashed, reverence for nature and to balance that reverence with a profound belief in human possibilities.

From the smallest community to the largest multinational organization, we seek to inspire others who can advance the cause of conservation. We seek to be the voice for those creatures who have no voice. We speak for their future. We seek to apply the wealth of our talents, knowledge, and passion to making the world wealthier in life, in spirit, and in living wonder of nature.

Can you feel, taste, touch, smell and SEE the vast difference?!

  • It’s the vision statement that brings their mission to life, portrays it in vibrant colors and gives it wings.
  • It’s the vision that, if you believed in the mission, would make you want to work tirelessly to help them accomplish their mission, would inspire your passion to be an evangelist in any way that you could, and will inspire the necessary drive to bring such audacious goals to fruition.
  • It’s the vision that sets the organization apart from any other conservation organization with similar goals.
  • It’s the vision that makes all the difference in how your brand comes to life.

I believe it’s no accident that the WWF CEO, Carter Roberts, is pictured prominently on the page with the Vision – not the page with the Mission.  I suspect that when talking with the Board of Directors and with governments across the globe he’s talking Mission, objectives, strategies, and measurable goals.

But the CEO’s role when talking with donors, employees, communities and evangelists is to communicate the vision and bring it to life. Those are the people whose hearts he must winit’s the vision that enables him to do so.

Guess what?  He’s clearly fulfilling this role - just take a look at his “Notes” on the right side of the Vision page – his latest notes on “Hope in the Himalayas” has the word “vision” in the first sentence.  His notes from September of last year are about “the stars aligning.”

By having a clear vision for the organization, communicating it passionately and consistently, the WWF is much better positioned to win hearts and minds, organically encourage evangelism, get communities on board with their mission, and dramatically increase revenues.  I believe these are real and measurable business-altering differences between a business mission and its vision.

So, have I accomplished my mission?

If so, I hope you’ll take a close look at your company and determine whether or not your organization has a clear vision, and if you as a leader are communicating it enthusiastically and using it as your company’s North Star.

Now, you’ve got to live up to your mission as well! Never confuse the two again…or face the wrath of the gods!

 

The beautiful photo is called Reflective Mood by Kansas Poetry.