What is the Difference between Mission, Vision, Purpose & Values, ?

Your  mission, vision, purpose and values play an extremely important role in strategy development and in shaping the culture of your organisation.

There is, however, often confusion about what these terms mean because they are often used in different contexts and, therefore, take on different meanings and even the same meaning in some cases.

The confusion about the meaning of business terms such as vision, mission, purpose and values occurs because they are often used in different contexts and, therefore, take on different meanings and even the same meaning in some cases.

Much of this confusion can be avoided if these terms are clearly defined and agreed within the organisation.

This short article summarises the meanings of each of these terms to ensure that everyone is on the ‘same page’ as the organisation moves forward.

Mission

The Mission statement that is most often confused with Purpose.  It is, therefore, important to be clear about what a mission statement is and understand how it is different to the Purpose.

A Mission statement describes what an organisation does and for whom in an inspirational way.  It should be based on the organisation’s strategy, setting out the aims, philosophy and values of an organisation, describing what business the organisation is in (and what it isn’t) both now and in the future.

The aim of the Mission Statement is to provide everyone in the organisation with a basis on which to make all business decisions.  It should encapsulate the product or service you deliver, the audience you deliver it to and the benefits it provides.

The mission statement should provide clear answers to the following questions: What do you do? What is your product/service? What is your market? How far is your reach? What words does your company use to describe its products/services?

Vision

The vision statement describes what the organisation will ‘look like’ at some pre-defined point in the future.  For example, where will the organisation be in five years and beyond. It should serve as a guiding beacon that describes what the organisation aspires to be.

A carefully crafted vision statement will communicate your organisation’s long-term goals to your people in a clear, memorable, giving them a sense of clear direction and focus.  It should inspire your people to think beyond their day-to-day activities and to understand how they can help the organisation to move from where it is to where you want it to be.  This will help to motivate them to concentrate their efforts on activities that will help the organisation attain its vision.  It will also serve as a filter for making important decisions, ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

As an organisation grows, its objectives and goals may change. Vision statements may, therefore, need to be revised over time to reflect the changing business environment as goals are met and/or the business landscape changes. However, when you’re writing the vision statement, you should base it on your current strategic and business plans.

Purpose

Purpose should answer the question “why do you do what you do?”.  The answer to this question should go beyond profit margins and internal benefits and look toward the long-term effect you want to have on your staff, your customers, your markets, your stakeholders, your community and the environment.  In other words, it should explain how people will benefit from your existence.

The diagram below shows how the various element of the strategy model fit together and how Purpose and Values sit inside the model, acting like a compass that guides the overall direction of the organisation.  The organisation’s Purpose will tend to remain consistent over time, even when the other elements of the model change.

Purpose tends to be defined when the organisation is created – since that is the point at which the reason for starting the business is most clear.  Creating a statement of purpose retrospectively can, therefore, be challenging, but not impossible.  Figuring out why your organisation exists (beyond financial gain) makes it easier for you and those you work with to find fulfilment in doing what you do.  When people see the value in what they are doing or offering it will encourage the behaviours that you are seeking from them.

Values

The organisations values serve as a moral and behavioural compass.  They set out ethical principles and standards of behaviour for the organisation which creates a culture that is aligned with its purpose, mission and vision.

Values should be clear, written in the company’s ‘voice’ and, importantly, easy to remember.  It is important that there is no ambiguity in the statements that define the values. It is, therefore, not advisable to use just one word.  Equally, they should not be long paragraph since this would be difficult to remember.

A common format for values is to start with a single word, followed by a short but precise definition of what it means to the organisation.  The exact format used will depend on the organisation and the way in which it communicates both internally and externally.

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