Recently, vision and mission statements have become so watered down in the corporate world that they are basically meaningless. If your company’s mission statement is anything like “we will constantly exceed our customer’s expectations”, having your business development team arrive at a sales call with a marching band will probably “exceed customer expectations”, but not necessarily increase sales, or assist your business achieve its goals.
Because of this, vision and mission have been largely painted with negative connotations.
When used properly though, vision and mission statements can be very powerful tools, especially for developing firms. Just as a sports coach has a vision for putting a dream team together and plans for winning games, vision and mission provide direction for a business, without which it is difficult to develop a workable plan.
A workable plan allows the business to engage in activities that lead the organization forward and avoid allocating resources to activities that do not.
Vision statements and mission statements are different. A vision statement spells out goals at a high level and should line up with the owner’s goals for the business. The vision should state what the owner ultimately wants the business to be, in terms of growth, values, staff, contributions to society, and so on; therefore, self-reflection by the owner is a vital activity if a meaningful vision is to be crafted. Once the owner(s) have defined the vision, you can begin to develop strategies for moving the organization towards that vision, and part of this process would include the development of the company mission statement(s).
The mission statement should be a concise statement of business strategy, developed from the customer’s perspective and it should fit with the vision for the business. The mission should answer three seemingly simple questions:
- What do we do?
- How do we do it?
- For whom do we do it?
What do we do?
This question should not be answered in terms of what is physically delivered to customers, but by the real and/or psychological needs that are fulfilled when customers buy your products or services. Customers make purchase decisions for many reasons, including economical, logistical, and emotional factors. An excellent illustration of this is a business that imports hand-made jewellery from East Africa. When asked what her business does, the owner replied, “We import and market East African jewellery.” But when asked why customers buy her jewellery, she explained that, “They’re buying the story behind where the jewellery came from.” This is an important distinction and answering this question from the need-fulfilled perspective will help you answer the other two questions effectively.
How do we do it?
This question captures the more technical elements of the business. Your answer should encompass the physical product or service and how it is sold and delivered to customers, and it should fit with the need that the customer fulfils with its purchase. In the example above, the business owner had originally defined her business as selling East African jewellery and was attempting to sell it on shelves of boutique retail stores with little success. After modifying the answer to the first question, she realized that she needed to deliver the story to her customers along with the product. She began organizing wine parties that included a slide show of East Africa, stories of personal experiences there, and pictures and descriptions of the villagers who make the jewellery. This method of delivery has been very successful for her business.
For whom do we do it?
The answer to this question is also vital, as it will help you focus your marketing efforts. Though many small business owners would like to believe otherwise, not everyone is a potential customer, as customers will almost always have both demographic and geographic limitations. When starting out, it is generally a good idea to define the demographic characteristics (age, income, etc.) of customers who are likely to buy and then define a geographic area in which your business can gain a presence. As you grow, you can add new customer groups and expand your geographic focus.
An additional consideration with mission statements is that most businesses will have multiple customer groups that purchase for different reasons. In these cases, one mission statement can be written to answer each of the three questions for each customer group or multiple mission statements can be developed.
As a final thought, remember that your vision and mission statements are meant to help guide the business, not to lock you into a particular direction. As your company grows and as the competitive environment changes, your mission may require change to include additional or different needs fulfilled, delivery systems, or customer groups. With this in mind, your vision and mission should be revisited periodically to determine whether modifications are desirable.
Version 8 would love to help you develop a clear vision and mission statement for your business or team.