A clearly formulated mission and vision give direction to all employees in an organisation. Formulating a mission and vision is functional if they can be used as a measuring instrument; if you can use it to determine which choices at a strategic, tactical and operational level do or do not fit your organisation. Employees who feel and experience what they do their job for: that is what you want to use a formulation of mission and vision for, as a practical instrument. Everyone will undoubtedly agree with the above. But then the content-related questions come to the fore: What criteria must a formulation of mission and vision meet? What are they for? Which elements should they contain and which requirements do you set for them? And finally: How do you construct a mission and vision statement?
In this article I will answer these questions based on the publication of Hans Banens (1995). He describes the concluding result at the end of a period in which the themes of mission and vision had been much discussed. What I value so much in Banens is his prelude to a method. It does not require a lot of effort to convert this to a beautiful instrument that enables any business to take a good step forward towards healthy growth.
So, are mission and vision not something of the past? No. Certainly not. Mission and vision are also the basis of many relatively new working methods and approaches such as scrum. You often come across them in the canvases used in ‘the quick business models of today’. What I sometimes notice in practice are insufficiently concrete formulations of mission and vision. This results in a mission that does not adequately indicate what the organisation stands for and what its principles are and the vision does not adequately give direction to what the organisation strives for and which future it wants to achieve.
When an organisation is able to formulate a mission and vision that meet the quality standard I describe in this article, the organisation expresses its own identity and the benchmark of its own course. This allows all the organisation’s employees to make better choices within their own work environment and responsibilities. They will then be able to decide for themselves which options connect well or less well with what the organisation is and what it is working towards. Moreover, a good mission and vision form a great starting point and stimulate new activities that contribute to the healthy growth of the organisation.
Free Mission Statement
only for those who want to get one quickly
“Our company [insert name] will be the most attractive business in the Netherlands for customers in the [insert name] industry, because we focus on customer satisfaction and a smooth-running internal organisation. It is important to us what our customers think of us and we use this for the continuous improvement of our products, services and processes. We embrace (new) technology and use this where it leads to improvements in the organisation’s efficiency and effectiveness. We believe that motivated and well-educated staff members are essential to delivering quality to our customers. Therefore, we are an attractive employer that wants to make full use of the capacities of staff members and that stimulates the personal development of employees. Our shareholders see our staff policy, our focus on customer satisfaction and on smooth-running processes in a higher than average return.”
Unfortunately, there are still too many mission statements like the one above. This mission statement is not clear about what the organisation stands for. I call this a generic and indistinct mission statement that fits any organisation. For this mission statement names conditions of existence that apply to every business: customer satisfaction, effectiveness, motivated staff and so on. The mission statement only names ‘dissatisfiers’ and no ‘satisfiers’. The biggest objection to such a mission statement is that you cannot use it for anything. It does not give employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders a picture of what the organisation stands for, what it believes in or what it regards as important. It does not contain an identity. It is not selective. It does not enable anyone in the organisation to determine which actions do or do not fit; what you do and do not want to do as an organisation. Let’s take a look at a mission statement from the daycare industry.
Mission – Vision
what do you stand for – what do you strive for
Mission statement daycare center ‘The Clay Pigeon’
“Daycare Center The Clay Pigeon offers children a safe and comfortable environment where they can develop at their own pace. We give children the attention they deserve and therefore they quickly feel at home with us. Besides the fact that physical and social safety is our number one priority, we believe it is important that children develop from an early age and can discover the world in their own way. We work with well-educated and qualified pedagogical staff who all have a certificate of good conduct as well. Regularity, clarity and health are important to children and therefore we work with a daily structure that fits the needs of young children.”
The question we have to answer is: does this mission statement adequately indicate what this organisation stands for, so that it gives the policy makers, managers and employees sufficient direction in making choices at a strategic, tactical and operational level? This mission statement might feel a bit more concrete than the earlier generic example, but it is still a mission statement you can’t do much with as a daycare organisation. Why? This mission statement is also full of ‘dissatisfiers’: the substantive elements are conditions of existence that apply to any daycare center. If you do not meet them, you will get problems anyway (that is, a safe environment, giving attention, development at own pace, trained staff, certificate of good conduct, and so on). Therefore it is not distinctive, not selective, and not directive.
Mission statement day care center ‘The Jumping Board’
“The Jumping Board increases young children’s quality of life by focusing on a healthy lifestyle. We do this by paying a lot of attention to physical fitness, social development and a wide range of activities. We work on raising fit and socially skilled young people full of initiative. Parents with children aged 0 to 8 choose The Jumping Board, because they want their children to learn a healthy lifestyle from an early age and to consider this normal. Our customers are irritated about the growing number of young children who are overweight, get rewards in the form of candy, regularly go to McDonald’s and spend long hours indoors gaming. The Jumping Board wants to address this problem by encouraging children to consider it normal for food to be organic, to take plenty of exercise, to have fun outside, to limit screen time and by teaching them that candy is unhealthy.”
However you feel about the content, the above mission statement is crystal clear on what the organisation stands for, for whom and why. The mission statement is directive, because it helps all employees in the organisation to make choices at all policy levels. Strategic: everything in and around the organisation breathes ‘healthy, fit, active, and organic’. Tactical: cooperation with Streetdance…no children’s parties at McDonald’s. Operational: we shop at Gooodyfooods and when it rains…we simply put on wellies. The mission statement is selective, because it provides clarity with regard to choices that need to be made (this fits and that does not). The mission statement is distinctive, because few daycare organisations are so firm and explicit about health. Does this appeal to all parents? No, I don’t think so. Is that a bad thing? If, in doing this, you appeal to all parents who get extremely annoyed about parenting with candy, gaming and fries, then you have done a good job. It is better to get 100% of 20% than 10% of 80%.
The Mission Statement
what it is and what it should contain
“Mission here refers to a formulation that outlines the identity of the organisation. The mission essentially expresses the organisation’s reason for existence and for whom this can be considered of importance. In addition, some basic values can be defined in the mission, for which the organisation stands through the years. Therefore, a complete mission statement includes three main aspects:
a. The organisation’s reason for existence. What is its ultimate purpose?
b. The main interest groups or stakeholders. For whom does the organisation exist?
c. The basic values underlying its actions.” H. Banens (1995)
How do you construct a mission statement?
So mission is about the reason for existence and about what your organisation finds important. You can find the construction of the mission formulation above. Those are the components it should contain. That is clear. The next question, however, is how you find out what those are. What should you put in the three empty boxes? I believe it begins with taking a good look at yourself. It is not primarily about what your customer thinks or what the general or socially acceptable opinion on something is. Rather, it is about your motive. What do you believe in? Which difference do you want to make? It is about who you are as an organisation and what you think of the environment in which you operate. What annoys you? What do you think should change? If you don’t know or find this too difficult, you can also look at or listen to your customers. Why do they choose you and not a competitor? How do they live their lives? What is important to them? What are their irritations? A third option is to look at and listen to competitors or their customers. Focus on which themes they ignore and what you consider a missed opportunity. Further on in this article I will revisit the role of competitors, but I think that is much less important for the mission statement.
The Vision Statement
what it is and what it should contain
“Vision here refers to a rendering of the shared image the organisation has of a desired future situation that it considers to be feasible. Organisations with a vision know where they stand and where they want to get to. This shared image includes a total of four aspects:
a. A picture of the situation the organisation is in right now.
b. An outline of the relevant developments in this situation.
c. A formulation of the ambitions/goals for a specified term in the future.
d. A picture of the process of change needed to get there.” H. Banens (1995)
How do you construct a vision statement?
So vision is about a desired future situation you consider to be feasible. Construction of the formulation clear…check. Components to be included…check. Once more, the next question is how you find out what those are. Briefly, I would ask the question where your organisation wants to be in five or ten years. What does your organisation want to have achieved? How do you want your organisation to be seen by others in ten years? You can look at that from the perspective of your own development (having ten branches in the north of the Netherlands or being the biggest or offering the lowest price), but from a completely different perspective as well. For instance achieving a change of opinion, such as: parents no longer give their children candy to keep them quiet, but undertake more with their kids. It can be anything, as long as it is sufficiently specific. By that I mean ‘slightly’ measurable. Find a well-founded ambition that allows you to determine when you will have achieved it. Do not formulate dreams that leave it unclear when they will have been realized.
Short and Specific
Aspiring in Enterprise
Finally, there are a number of criteria the formulation of both mission and vision has to comply with. Banens call this the SOARS-criteria. In this way the organisation ensures that the mission and vision statement is not only complete with regard to its contents, but formulated in a functional way as well. The organisation can effectively use them for their intended purpose.
The five SOARS-criteria of Hans Banens (1995)
Short and specific: the mission and vision are expressed clearly and concisely, so that they are understandable for everyone in the organisation.
Organisation-specific: the mission and vision emphasize the elements that distinguish the organisation from others and specify what these elements are.
Aspiring in Enterprise: the mission and vision are ambitious and challenging, they inspire and give room and direction to initiatives and creativity.
Realistic: the mission and vision are recognizable for the members of the organisation and the feasibility is not called into question.
Selective: the mission and vision provide guidance in taking decisions on initiatives, investments and organisation. They indicate limits to what is possible and therefore implicitly indicate what is not the intention.
Do you only work to earn money?
That is or results in poverty
It is not just meaningful, but also makes you feel complete and satisfied when you have put into words what you truly believe in and what you want to work towards. Do you only work to earn money? That is or results in poverty. You begin to enjoy your work by doing something you believe is worthwhile. That makes you think: ‘Another person with one less problem…who will enjoy what I have been thinking about for some time and what I have turned into a reality.’ Also take into account that customers want to be convinced that you are truly doing something you believe in, that you are doing what is good for them. I believe that is what gurus call ‘working from passion’. A term level-headed business administrators do not like to use, because it is too difficult to measure it :-).
A lead time of two weeks should be enough to arrive at a widely supported mission and vision statement that meets the stated criteria for effectiveness. After that it will be easy to move onto to the next step in setting a course towards healthy growth for your organisation. Do you need help? Feel free to contact me without obligation for specific advice in your situation.
Banens, H. (1995). Van strategisch management naar koersmanagement. Holland Management Review, 43, 62-71.
All articles in this series:
- Setting and keeping a business on a healthy course…the way do it
(part 1/6: introduction)
- How you can set a course for a healthy business
(part 2/6: mission and vision)
- How you can make a good swot-analysis for a healthy business
(part 3/6: swot-analysis)
- How you can develop a strategy for a healthy business
(part 4/6: confrontationmatrix and setting strategy)
- How you can arrive at goals for a healthy business
(part 5/6: organisation goals)
- How you can keep a grip on a healthy business
(part 6/6: the balanced scorecard)