Even the most experienced business people feel a little hazy when faced with strategic concepts such as mission, vision, purpose and values. And when we’re working at speed and keen to ‘get on’ and deliver, the time spent first clarifying what we’re all talking about can easily fall by the wayside.

All of a sudden, businesses are faced with the need to develop these vital concepts – but share no commonly understood definition. Without this, each term can end up being used vaguely and interchangeably – and without shared comprehension, success is impossible. 

Why? Because when you skim over the definition of a concept, your thinking and approach become sloppy. This then filters down to every level of the organisation and affects the ‘doing’ too. 

One example of this occurs when businesses focus too much on goals and deliverables, rather than really pinning down their overarching vision. All of a sudden, they find themselves travelling in the wrong direction and focusing on goals which simply aren’t essential and which dilute efforts and progress.

Step 1: Know what we are talking about

By really understanding each concept of vision, mission and purpose, the process of development and the order of attack becomes clearer. At the same time, it becomes far easier to develop each one for the business. We can return to our definition and use it to challenge and guide thinking, without confusion or false starts.

Step 2: Prepare to lose the mission!

A lot of big brands are now talking about their vision and purpose and leaving ‘mission’ out of the equation altogether. This current approach is effective at describing:

a) the direction of travel (the vision) and;

b) the reason for the organisation’s existence or its purpose.

At the same time, values explain what will guide the direction of travel.

Step 3: Begin your definitions

OK, so it’s the natural point for business leaders everywhere to ask what the single and commonly accepted definitions of these strategic concepts are. But unfortunately – there aren’t any!

All isn’t lost though, as there are plenty of very well thought out definitions in existence, and some of the business world’s best thinkers have worked hard to develop them. So, the best approach is to review some of the best contenders available and pick definitions that really fit your organisation and the way you work.

Here are some examples:

a) The Mission – describes what you are and captures the reason for your existence and purpose. Some businesses choose to use ‘purpose’ instead – but the terms can pretty much be used interchangeably.

b) The Vision – broadens out this view to capture the possibilities of the ideal end-state. It captures your self-definition, your direction and the elements that will guide your progression.

c) The Values – these deeply held beliefs are what guide your direction.

OK, so why are values so important?

They key thing here is that values tend not to change. Furthermore, they describe:

– what the company believes in and stands for and 
– behaviours and decision-making. 

By guiding these key attributes, values also help to create your entire culture and employee base. People with shared values create shared habits and define corporate culture. 

This also means that when your values support the business purpose, the vision can become enduring – and far easier to achieve.

Step 4: Start preparing your vision statement

The best and most natural approach to doing this is to:

1. Start by defining your core values and capture these in a standalone purpose statement.
2. Use your purpose statement to create your vision statement, which will naturally combine elements of both purpose and values.

Let’s look at Nike as an example:

– Nike’s values are performance, authenticity, innovation, and sustainability, and the company uses these to ‘test’ every big decision that it makes. 
– Nike’s Vision is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world
– Nike’s Purpose is to create groundbreaking sports innovations, by making its products more sustainably, by building a creative and diverse global team and by making a positive impact in communities in which its people live and work.

How does this all link with your business strategy?

Remember, your business strategy is a roadmap that will take you to your vision – and the goals that you choose are actions or milestones, that will measure your progress. (Goals tend to be developed according to SMART principles and they are often the bit that delivery-focused managers tend to focus on immediately. That’s natural for operational managers who are rewarded by delivery. Strategic leaders must work to ensure that strategy comes before doing.)

Be ready to change

It’s important to know that – by their very nature – your strategy and your goals can change over time. For example, the market might evolve or a new regulation might change the way that your business needs to operate. However, a good vision will endure, and any adjustment to it will tend to be just an extra degree of clarity as you move closer.

In conclusion

Don’t get bogged down in worrying excessively about whether you need a vision statement, a mission statement, separate statements or one ‘all in’ document. What does really matter is that you have clarity on your organisation, its direction, its guiding principles and the actions that need to happen to get you there. 

To do this, get your values and purpose on point, so you all know why you are sitting around that table, and your vision will follow naturally. Once these are all in place, then create a shared understanding across your organisation, so that everyone is on the same page and ready to focus their efforts in a way that achieves true and lasting results.