Mission – Vision – Values – Purpose

Leaders need to live and express their organization’s mission every day. Imagine my surprise when I meet with a coaching client find that although their organization, and even their department, has written and communicated mission, vision, values and purpose statements, this person isn’t able to tell me what they are.  In fact, sometimes, they confuse the vision and the purpose; or the mission and the values, and don’t seem to have them clearly integrated into their work. Since the terms can be confusing, easily interpreted in different ways, here’s a quick summary of what each typically is:

A mission statement describes what work the business or organization is in: “To enrich people’s lives with programs and services that inform, educate and entertain.” is the mission statement for the BBC.  Sometimes mission is defined as being able to answer the questions “What are you doing as an organization?” and “Who are you doing it for?”

A vision statement states what the organization would like to be like in the future. “Be the world’s beer company. Through all of our products, services and relationships, we will add to life’s enjoyment.” is the vision statement of Anheuser-Busch.  They acknowledge that they are not there yet, though it is what they aspire to be.

An organization’s values describe the culture and serve as a behavioral compass. Values focus on the behaviors that you want to be known for. Bright Horizons Family Solutions has nearly 1,000 childcare centers around the US and a Values Statement that follows their HEART Principles: Honesty, Excellence, Accountability, Respect and Teamwork.

An organization’s purpose expresses the organization’s impact on the lives of customers, clients, students, patients — whomever it is trying to serve.  It answers the question “What is the organization doing for someone else?”  It strives to be motivational because it connects with the heart as well as the head.   The purpose statement for Kellogg food company is “Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive.”

When it comes to communicating an organization’s mission, vision, values and purpose to employees, customers and stakeholders, words don’t matter nearly as much as actions do.  Some leaders are very mission, vision, values and purpose driven. They believe that the existence of a compelling mission defining why the organization exists, a vision describing where the organization wants to be in the future and clear values stating how the organization behaves toward one another, will improve everything amiss with the organization; benefiting from this clarity.  However, we know that as much as these “guideposts” will map out the path, set the tone for the work, and sound wonderful;  you as a leader must translate mission, vision, values and purpose into the everyday issues and actions. You still need to pick the strategies and action plans that meet the needs inside the mission, vision, and values you have chosen.   People still want to know what you want them to do, every day, step by step.

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