Mission, Vision, Purpose, and Values! What's the Fuss?

By Rangsan Thammaneewong

Starting from the mid-1980s, there has been more talk about the missions and visions of organizations. It is not a new concept in business, but it has recently gained popularity in management circles. Most, if not all of the highly successful companies are said to have well-defined missions. Let’s get familiar with them to see if you need one. Where do we get them? What if you still do not have one?

Mission: Many people call it a “Mission Statement.” When we have a mission, we have decided to do something that we aim to achieve. In a battle, the mission may be to seize an enemy stronghold. When the target is seized, the mission is considered over. A declared mission helps every soldier in the battalion know what their goal is. They may have to devise several plans and strategies to achieve their mission, but their goal is focused.
Similarly, a mission statement of a company is a statement or a declaration of a purpose a company aspires to achieve. Many organizations set out missions that are harder to accomplish. By setting the bar as high as they do, companies can ensure that their employees will always strive for more.
For example, a pharmaceutical company may set out “to alleviate the sufferings of mankind with modern medicine.” It is a difficult mission to accomplish. Many of the company researchers and pharmacists will strive to find new drugs that cure the current epidemics or illnesses related to natural aging, like Alzheimer’s. Every time they find new useful drugs, there is a tremendous sense of joy.

Vision: The word “vision” is often used interchangeably with “mission.” When leaders and their organizations have a common vision, they see themselves in the future of what they will become and where they will be. When the mission is to seize the hill, the captain may tell their soldiers about his vision after they seize the hill. It could be something like, “Tomorrow evening, I see our troops resting on the hill watching the sunset and sipping from our cold bottles.” This vision tells the troops that successful action on their part will be rewarded and they may be at peace, even if for a short while. Another example: Lee Kuan Yew, an ex-PM of Singapore, had a vision of where Singapore would be if his plans had been carried through. 

Purpose: A company’s “purpose” is very much like a mission. That is the destination an organization wants to reach. The mission statement should have a purpose, to reach a destination of some value. Otherwise, there is no point in undertaking what the company is about to do.

Values: Everyone has values. Values shape people’s characters. People have common and differing values. Groups and organizations that share common values have a better chance of achieving its vision or mission. Values also shape the culture of the organization. A soldier may value patriotism and bravery, and these values may have persuaded him to become a soldier. Another soldier may have been convinced by his values to provide for his family and protect his country. Values may or may not translate into a vision. A value to protect one’s country does not necessarily make one become a soldier. A value for adventure can make someone become a traveler instead of a soldier. This will depend on how proactive a person is, and whether or not they think pursuing certain actions will fulfill their values. When a person has values, he may or may not act on them, choosing instead to react to whatever happens. This is the same as an organization. Leaders or people may have common values and never discuss them. As a result, they will not have any common vision or mission about which they are passionate in achieving.

What should we call them? The above words are often used interchangeably depending on the context in which they are placed. For future discussion, I am more inclined to refer to the declaration of the topic as “Mission Statement.”
What do we achieve by having a mission statement? An organization that has a good mission statement should drive the organization in one direction. Employees will be drawn together by a sense of purpose that goes beyond just earning a living.

They want to better their society or act in accordance with their values. Having a mission statement indicates the purpose as to why the company exists, where it is going, and what it wants to achieve.

The binding value of an organization should not be just for profit. While money is an important component in maintaining a good work force, it should not be the only enticing factor for employees. Having a good mission statement has helped build several great companies.

Other advantages include:

  • Saving resources such as time, energy and financial resources. All resources would be spent on initiatives and strategies that will help achieve the company’s mission or common objectives.
  • A passionate workforce driven by common values, especially if all employees help draft them.
  • Higher morale and lower turnover in the long run, which creates high productivity and great performance.

Where can I get a mission statement for my company?
A business colleague of mine once called me from overseas, knowing of the work we do, and asked, “Can you get me a mission statement for my company and send it to me via e-mail?” My initial reaction was, “Yes, I will stop by 7eleven and get you one on the way home and send it to you tomorrow.” But I  did not joke about it since he was serious.

A good personal mission statement should come from within oneself; a good organization mission should therefore come from within the organization. It can start with top executives of the organization in having a vision of what and where the company would be in the future.

From senior executives down to entry level, everyone should share the same vision and have an opportunity to voice their views.

The more everyone feels connected by a sense of common purpose created by the mission statement, the more vibrant the organization will become.

Creating a mission statement can be a top down approach. The following questions usually are involved in the process of creating a mission statement.

  • What does the organization exist for?
  • What contributions would it make to society, creating a sense of common purpose for employees?
  • How do the leaders see themselves—A vision- far into the future, 5 to 15 years or more from now?
  • What would possible indicators (KPI) be that would provide them with a gauge of whether they are moving in the right direction? 
  • What differences do they expect to see happening in measurable terms in the organization if they achieve their vision or accomplish their mission statement?

Creating a mission statement that will be committed to by all could take six months to a year or more, depending on the impact and the involvement of people in the organization. Once the mission statement is established and committed by everyone in the organization, you are bound to see great energy and productivity. 

As appeared in Asean Affairs Magazine