The Critical Differences Among Mission, Vision, Purpose, Strategy and Goals
Are you confused about the difference between mission and vision? Or, between purpose and mission? You’re not alone. I am frequently asked about the differences among mission, vision, purpose, strategy and goals… and where do values fit in?
Many people don’t care about definitions. That’s certainly unfortunate.
Having clear definitions distinguishes these important concepts. And since there is an order of operations, where each one drives the next, it’s important to understand how they relate and influence one another.
Ken Favaro in the Harvard Business Review says “ignoring, blurring, or misunderstanding concepts creates sloppy thinking, deciding, and doing at all levels of an organization.” For example, if you focus on goal-setting without considering the larger vision, you are likely to end up with goals that don’t matter.
However, since there are no commonly agreed upon definitions for any of these terms, you will need to decide which definitions make most sense to you. With that in mind, here are the definitions I’ve found most useful in my work over the past 30 years helping leaders create a compelling vision and identity the strategies to achieve it.
Mission and Purpose
Mission is about who you are. It answers the questions “What is our purpose?” and “Why do we exist?” Some people prefer to use the term Purpose, as there is less confusion about what it means, but essentially mission and purpose are synonyms and mean the same thing.
My definition: Mission is your purpose or reason for existence.
Vision is about the possibilities of what you can become. It encompasses purpose, but is broader. Vision provides a clear picture or mental image of the ideal end-state. Because mission (purpose) is a supporting factor of a clear vision, I include it as one of the components and suggest creating one statement that includes purpose, values and picture of the end result.
My definition: Vision is knowing who you are, where you’re going, and what will guide your journey.
“Who you are” is your purpose or mission.
“Where you’re going” is the picture of the ideal state.
“What will guide your journey” are your values.
Values are deeply held beliefs about what is right and good. They evoke standards that you care about deeply. They drive your behaviors and decisions. We all have values that guide our choices and actions, either consciously or unconsciously. When people in an organization share the same values, they will develop the collective habits that shape the culture of the company. To create an enduring vision, values must support the purpose.
My definition: Values are guiding principles that provide broad guidelines on how to behave on a day-to-day basis.
Strategy explains how the organization will move forward. It describes the broad thrusts or themes from which specific actions arise. There might be three or four key strategies that drive the vision.
My definition: Strategy is a high-level method or plan of action that defines the path toward your vision.
Goals are the milestones that mark your progress toward your vision. They are the actions you intend to take along the path. They quantify and define the steps you will take.
My definition: Goals are the specific, measurable actions you intend to take.
The real differences among mission, vision, purpose, strategy, and goals.
Strategy and goals might change. For example, unforeseen events may throw you off course. A real vision is enduring. It might seem to change, but that’s a function of it becoming more clear as you move closer to it.
Vision and strategy are broad. Goals are focused and specific.
Personally, I don’t bother quibbling about whether you call your statement a mission statement or a vision statement, or about whether you have three separate statements or just one statement that includes everything – as long as you end up with clarity on who you are, where you’re going, what will guide your journey, and your next steps. What’s important is to create a common understanding and shared meaning throughout your team or organization about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
© Jesse Lyn Stoner 2018
This article is published with permission from Jesse Lyn Stoner granted to Steve L. Wintner, AIA Emeritus.
Jesse Lyn Stoner, founder of Seapoint Center, works closely with leaders helping them create collaborative, engaged organizations that make a powerful and positive impact on the world. A business consultant, coach, former executive, and bestselling author, Jesse has worked in a wide range of industries including Fortune 500s, small startups, government agencies, and nonprofits. Her clients include Edelman, Marriott, SAP, Stanley, Skanska, The Hartford, and Yale University, to name a few.
Jesse is coauthor, with Ken Blanchard, of the international bestseller Full Steam Ahead: Unleash the Power of Vision which has been translated into 22 languages. She is also coauthor of Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard et.al. And as a senior consultant at The Ken Blanchard Companies, she helped create many of the programs and materials in the areas of vision, teams, and organization excellence.
Click here to learn more about Ms. Stoner and her organization, Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership.