In the last 25 years or so, vision statements have grown to become a staple of organizational life. Companies, universities, hospitals, government agencies, even individuals – they all have their vision statements. They also routinely confuse them with mission statements.
A vision statement is, in its purest form, describes what an organization aspires to be. A mission statement is how the organization intends to achieve that vision. The shorthand version: what we want to be, and what we’re doing to get there.
You can read a vision statement, and know immediately that it was either produced by an individual, perhaps with a person or two helping, or by a committee or series of committees. An individually written one usually strives for one idea; the committee-written one (assisted by the Legal Department) tries to include everything top make sure nothing (and no department) is omitted.
When done well, both vision statements and mission statements can read like a fine, moving poem.
In my career, I’ve written two corporate vision statements. The first one was accidental. I wrote a speech for the CEO, and the conclusion contained a series of statements that reached for something far beyond the company’s current performance. It stuck, and almost overnight. The second one was also part of a speech, and it was intentionally designed to be a vision statement. A year later, a committee got involved and rewrote part of it; that company still uses it more than a decade later and you can identify what the speechwriter wrote and what the committee wrote.
Here are a few examples of vision statements; I did not write any of them. See which ones are truly inspirational.
Johnson & Johnson
Vision statement: Caring for the world, one person at a time.
Mission statement: We embrace research and science – bringing innovative ideas, products and services to advance the health and well-being of people. Employees of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies work with partners in health care to touch the lives of over a billion people every day, throughout the world. (J&J also has a credo of its four responsibilities to customers, employees, communities and stockholders.)
Vision statement (they call it their “Mission”): To Bring Inspiration and Innovation to Every Athlete in the World.
Vision statement (which is also a kind of mission statement): Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. (Google also has a “Ten Things We Know to Be True” which is a wonderful statement to read.)
Robert Mondavi Winery
Vision statement: Robert Mondavi Winery strives to create wines that stand in the company of the world’s finest.
State Farm Insurance
Vision statement (another “mission”): State Farm’s mission is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams.
The U.S. Department of Defense
Vision statement: Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally.
St. Louis Public Schools
Vision statement: St. Louis Public Schools is the district of choice for families in the St. Louis region that provides a world-class education and is nationally recognized as a leader in student achievement and teacher quality.
Mission statement: We will provide a quality education for all students and enable them to realize their full intellectual potential.
As a group, the government units (DOD, St. Louis Public Schools) are the most committee-like. Harvard’s is rather flat. The winery’s needs some work. Google’s is very business-like, but it’s not bad. Johnson & Johnson’s is the simplest (always a good thing for vision statements). Nike’s is inspiring. I like State Farm’s the best, likely because the speechwriter in me likes the use of the triad.
I’ve likely read hundreds of vision statements over the years, and the best usually originate in the mind of one individual. An individual we might call an organizational poet.
Poetic exercise: How would you write one of those vision statements above? Could you write it poetically and yet still make it a statement for an organization’s vision?
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