Vision, Mission and Values

Management Tools for Building a Better Workplace

By Daniel Robin

Vision and mission-making work can serve you in carrying out your leadership role, unifying your efforts and building alignment and loyalty among employees. However, far more important than having mission and vision statements is having a clear mission and vision! The map is not the territory. This article offers tips for how to gain clarity of mission and vision.

In practice, the actual work of creating vision, mission or values statements in an established organization (not for an individual, or a startup in planning stages, but for an operating company) can take a bit of time and energy.  It isn’t something you just write in a vacuum and declare it as complete and ready for everyone to use.  Including others in the process, knowing how to ask for input, being open to throwing out drafts and starting over, … will pay dividends in the long-run.

Once established, such statements serve all stakeholders as “True North” for understanding the culture, in decision-making, prioritizing and setting goals.  This eliminates wasted effort and saves tremendous time in the long-run.

To do it right, you might have to put aside other work temporarily to free up the necessary resources, and focus those resources to build shared meaning.

The benefits of clear vision and mission statements will be realized if they

  • speak to the organization’s present condition (including a “healthy stretch” toward a desired future),
  • are written clearly in plain English, and
  • are accompanied by grounded action that brings the intentions to life, and makes the work as the statements are put to use.

Making a statement memorable and inspiring is optional, but a helpful intention. If these conditions are being met, then you can go forward with communicating this important information to everyone in the organization and, if appropriate, the outside world. Such written statements can be used to develop a clearer position in the marketplace, for strategic planning, and to quickly qualify job candidates and orient new-hires. If the statements are implemented as a tool for dialogue and feedback, the content need not be presented as the definitive “final word” but rather a (perpetual) working draft.

Often a source of confusion, in case you’re curious about the differences between Vision, Mission and Objectives, they are outlined below:

VISION — What business are we in? What’s possible for the future? What do we want to become?

Vision defines a desired future and helps guide all who accept and understand it. Shared vision is the 3rd discipline in Peter Senge’s classic, The Fifth Discipline, and can be a tool for building a sense of commitment by “developing shared images of the future we seek to create.”

Another excellent book and resource to visioning and mission-making is the latest book by Stephen Covey, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.

This brings up an important question: whose vision is it? A CEO’s personal vision can automatically become “shared vision” in a workplace — temporarily, due to positional power — but for it to have lasting power, that vision must be made explicit (written down), with skillful discussion among the organization’s key players.

In other words, the CEO’s ideas are key to unlocking the organization’s potential; however, by involving more stakeholders, that potential will be deepened, and carried out based on personal commitment. Without a clear vision in writing, stakeholders operate more on assumption than on fact, and buy-in will be limited.

Unlike goals, but similar to a mission, vision has no deadline — no “by when.” It can be as precise as the response to the question “Where are we heading this year?” or as lofty as “If we could develop exactly the kind of company we wanted, what would it be like?”

See more about visioning and how Daniel Robin & Associates can help.

MISSION — Why does this matter? Working with Purpose and Meaning

An organization’s mission or purpose is the answer to the question “why?” Different questions will illicit different facets or flavors of mission. For example

Why are we doing this? Brings out purpose, motives, and intention.

What’s vitally important about our work? Begins to identify the values and interests that drive the organization.

With what aspects of this work do I most identify? Is there a cause or purpose — the bigger picture — beyond the work itself?

In a way, a “mission” is the motivational aspect of vision: it defines and clarifies “why does the vision matter?” and implies a set of governing values or principles. Some organizations prefer to define their “core values” explicitly, and lately we’ve seen clients focus on a Code of Ethics to make operational … either way, mission and values both define what is important to the individual, department or enterprise.

Much of what motivates and inspires people to make meaning and take action is contained in this “why” aspect. A mission statement is usually meant to define internal motivation — it’s meant to align and engage the agents or actors in the organization — rather than helping define an orientation to outside customers. The customer-centered or marketplace equivalent to a mission statement is usually contained in materials designed to promote the brand’s purpose or corporate image as part of a reason for doing business, for public relations purposes or to attract employees or investors. That’s an external message (still often called “mission” by the PR dept.) defined in terms of the target market or the competition. This type of statement will not be useful for aligning workplace structures, systems, processes and cultures. It is more like an advertisement, and can be effective when it represents an operational reality, communicates honest values, and helps the audience make meaning.

A mission or purpose statement defines why it all matters to employees, contractors, partners, and management — the internal “customers.”

As a mission reflects human motivation, hopefully it helps people feel good, maybe even to feel inspired, about it. It must be kept current and alive; check to see if your mission, once defined and in writing, still holds true 6 – 12 months later. Missions will change as priorities and business conditions change, after mergers or acquisitions, or other significant transitions.

Questions to ask that will get at mission and purpose:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Why does this work [our work] matter?
  • What’s most important about this work?
  • What will it do for us to fulfill our vision or strategic priorities? Why do our goals matter?
  • What is our unique role? How do we “make a difference”? For whom? How will we benefit? Who else benefits?

Contact us for a stepwise process for clarifying mission and purpose, or to discuss your situation.

VALUES, Principles & Beliefs

Everyone and every organization has values. The question is (a) are they clear (known to you and to other key stakeholders), and if so, (b) are you living according to them? Celebrate where your values and your actions are in alignment and look for areas where you value one thing but regularly do another. What are biggest gaps? What could you do to begin to close those gaps?

Often people end up in roles that do not reflect their values, or working for a company or boss that conflicts with their values. First comes clarifying why there’s a mismatch, then rational and appropriate action can be taken to improve the situation. Values are so intrinsic, ingrained and invisible (until they are surfaced) that we experience all the downstream effects without knowing the true cause. This tension and confusion can make intelligent actions, let alone informed decisions, nearly impossible.

Our coaching clients use a handy tool that helps make surfacing and using one’s values easier and more rewarding. The big question you can ask yourself about your values: “Which of these values am I living today and where are the biggest gaps?” Contact us for more information on how to clarify personal/professional values and roles.

As mentioned previously, it is often useful to define governing, core values, principles, or beliefs for the organization. What’s the difference?

Core Values underpin the organization’s purpose and mission. Values might be reflected in words like teamwork, contribution, excitement, communication, quality …. Once a list feels complete, go back and write a sentence that defines what each value means to you or to the organization.

Principles such as being “in service” to each other like internal customers (value: respect), win-win (value: success), or shared power (value: inclusion) … have been central to successful corporate cultures. Principles are more operational, more dynamic, and are more how the world works, rather than how the world is, or how you wish it to be. Again, once listed, be sure to define what they mean to you or to the organization.

Beliefs are things that your or the organization pre-supposes, assumptions about what is true. This is often linked in with a corporate philosophy, vision of the future or ideology. They usually begin with “We believe …” and capture some ethical or moral principle, inseparable from culture and values.

Where to Start … Possible Next Steps

The first step is to get a rough idea of where you are now, and then begin to develop the vision of where you want to go. An effort to clarify your mission may also be necessary, and is optional if you don’t need it for the outside world and if employees are clearly motivated, focused on priorities, and conflicts are minimal. This depends on your culture and the size of your organization. A common mistake is to establish goals and objectives without first defining the “container” — the vision, mission, and values that underpin that mission must be evident.

Goals and objectives are essential (“If you don’t know where you are going, you could wind up anywhere!”), but vision, values, role definitions, and systems of tracking results all serve as the “container” for effective growth and development, and must be first put in place.


Many organizations do not have clearly defined roles for key employees. Those roles must be mutually understood “agreements” between management and the employees. Some employees may play multiple roles (for example, project leader and administrative assistant). It is often helpful to define sets of goals in terms of each role that an employee plays.

Roles that are key to carrying out the vision and mission. Who does what? What are the key responsibility areas?


Companies with complex operations may want to use Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or systems like Balanced Scorecard to continuously track and monitor results, systematically comparing what was planned through goal-setting to the unfolding reality of actual results. This is key to accelerated learning.

A handy shortcut for smaller business owners is to think in terms of measuring one’s success. What are (at least) three ways you’ll measure your success? This applies to the founder and can also be used to build a “success culture.” Multiple “how you will know” measures assures at least some attention to the quality of life, not just the money aspect. What good is all the money if you are miserable? And the opposite is also true: “Business without finance is a nuisance.”

Mission making or remaking can provide a useful inclusion process that brings forward what is essential, increases focus on desired results, or addresses a motivation, morale (emotional engagement) or turnover problem. Contact us to discuss your situation.