Mission, Vision, and Core Values

Getting your company aligned and moving forward

At one time, it was customary for a corporation's executive team to hammer out the company's mission and vision statements, holed up in a board room. Established corporations or ones with healthy venture capital expensed a Tahoe weekend-work-cation. After hours of brainstorming, they crammed superlatives and ideals into 35-word sentences or small paragraphs. 

This page will help you understand a Mission Statement's, Vision Statement's, and a list of Core Value's purpose and value and how to use them effectively in your organization. 

Unfortunately, they'd created a document that most of their employees would skim and their customers would never see. As the months followed, the executives scratched their heads, "If their unfocused employees would get in alignment! Can't they see how our company, their production, and even their personal lives would be better if they just took our company mission and vision statement seriously?" 

Their weekend efforts wasted.  Why?

Because, before they created these foundational statements, they weren't clear about the purpose of these documents. Usually, companies put too much pressure on their mission statement, a sentence designed to state the core function of the business clearly. Instead, they think of their products or services' copious ideals and don't want to leave one out. They believe that adding positive words like service-oriented or phrases like "world-class" or "one-of-a-kind" will cause people to like their mission statement more and thus improve their company's image. The trouble was, no one cared except the executive team members, who felt overly invested in the effort.

What's the point of Mission, Vision, and Core Value statements?

Alignment and Direction. 

Having everyone relevant to the organization consistent with their actions and beliefs creates the momentum for growth. Imagine an octuple scull, an eight-man rowing team, with one person out of sync, or worse, steering the boat in their own direction. In an eight-man shell, the divergent crew member would know they're out of sync, as would everyone else, if they dragged an oar or rowed in a different direction. God forbid they would use their oar to hit another person's oar or talk them out of sync. (This never happens in rowing, but it does in business.) 

To keep everyone aligned, the rowing team has a coxswain. The coxswain is responsible for steering the boat and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers. Watch this video (starting at 3:00) or any video of a coxswain to experience the value of this unified voice.

A mission statement, vision statement, and core values have a parallel purpose for a company. To get the most out of these three, a leadership team would have the employees or members of the organization internalize them by hearing and seeing them with repetition, even committing them to memory. When the intended receiver internalizes these messages, the organization is aligned and moving in the same direction. 

Mission Statements

Mission Statements are foundational. They answer the question of why we exist. They don't necessarily need to be inspirational unless you feel you need to convince everyone of your reason for existing. They need to be clear and easy to remember.  Mission statements are most potent when they explain the core function of your organization to a variety of stakeholders (employees, leadership, stockholder, customers, and other interested parties) over a long time.

To be effective, they need to be short (15 words or less) and easy to memorize. Avoid having multiple purposes, products, or services but focus on the unifying function. This means eliminating the word "and" from your mission statement. You don't need to establish and empower; pick one. Employees, customers, stockholders, and leadership should "feel" its authenticity and say, "Yep, that's who we are," or "That's what we do." Again, focus on clarity over inspiration with your mission statement.

Warning: Develop these statements (or any permanent document) in groups and with deliberation. Posting a mission statement that is your first stab at your company's function can get you into trouble. For example, as an outsider, I'm tempted to scratch out Walmart's mission statement as, We win customers everywhere through convenience, everyday low prices, and consistent service. I'd be proud of that mission statement, it's 12 words, memorable, and that's what Walmart does! But this statement won't help Walmart win over communities when competitors complain that they are killing local small businesses with foreign-made products. 

Walmart Inc.'s mission deliberately sets a positive tone: "To save people money so they can live better." This mission is short, memorable, and foundational. Walmart has a brand that everyone knows, so they don't need to spell out that they are retailers. If you search their mission, they will spell out that they are also an online store in their narrative, a market with which they'd like to compete with Amazon. Nonetheless, their mission statement would be one that all employees could internalize.

Vision Statements

Flex your inspiration muscles when creating your Vision statements. Vision statements answer the question, "Where are we headed?" 

Think really big… but not too big.

The difference between a vision and a goal is in size and scope. You want your vision statement to inspire your stakeholders to their ideal future. Choose language that isn't constrained by numbers and timelines. 

Vision statements often include superlatives or the words every or best.  A vision statement can answer for an employee, "What wakes you up in the morning and keeps you going every day?" 

Many companies chose vision statements with unobtainable goals to inspire their stakeholders with the direction they are headed. The pitfall of having an overly grandiose vision statement is that some will doubt your ability to accomplish the vision.

The sweet spot for vision statements is that they inspire,  "feel true" to the stakeholders, and are short so that everyone can commit them memory and internalize their message.

THIS!  (and not that)

Together, the Mission and Vision statements are clarifying tools for your organization's actions and decision-making. Let's look at Tesla's mission statement to see how this works.

Tesla's mission is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.

Their car company, their battery company, and even Space X can uphold that their foundational purposes align with this statement. Elon Musk could make even more money if he competed with Jeff Bezos on an Amazon-type business, but that business wouldn't be a Tesla business. It's outside of the mission statement. Mission and vision statements help an organization maintain the integrity of its purpose and direction.

Core Values

Core Values tell the stakeholders how they should act, listing the ideals that determine individuals' behavior.

Ineffective core values are vague, like, we believe in being professional.  

Effective core values are specific, like, We will show professionalism by answering every customer service query within three business hours. Now, this is a fictitious core value, but if it were real, the employees would make decisions to ensure they can comply with this value. 

Sometimes core values help the direction of the organization and interactions of its people. Below are some examples of the core values for CREATE Clubs' entrepreneurship education.

    • Seeing people not for who they are but for whom they can become and helping them see new possibilities in themselves and their abilities 
    • Giving the public quality information for free as a way of introducing ourselves and earning their trust
    • Keeping people's trust by delivering excellent service and care for their character growth.
    • Challenging ourselves to learn, grow, and improve the curriculum
    • Celebrating successes and the growth in character to achieve them 
    • Creating opportunities for feedback
    • Being for what's right instead of needing to be right

Helpful for recruiting, if they are repeatable 

Mission, Vision, and Core Value statements are great tools for recruiting people and keeping members in your organization. By their clear, inspirational, and aspirational nature, they align people to your ideals, but only if they are read and repeated. To be effective, the Mission and Vision Statement must be short (10-15 words or less) and revisited often. 

Can you think of creative ways to put your Mission, Vision, and Core Values before your stakeholders?

A Nashville company has its employees read the mission and vision statement and one of the core values each week at their weekly huddle. Then, the employee tells the others what that core value means to them. This practice made its way up the ladder to the quarterly executive meetings. Do you wonder if this company remains focused and on point? You bet!

We'd love to hear your feedback.  Please share with us your experience with the process of developing a mission statement.  Have you found other uses for these documents that we've left out?  If you have a take-away for your business or organization, please let us know!