vision versus mission

''Comments on distinction between vision versus mission by various parties:

Vision and Mission: Seven Suggestions Why You Need Both

by Carol Humphries

One of the most common questions that I'm asked is whether there is any difference between a mission and a vision. It's a question that has a quick answer - yes!-with a whole lot of reasoning behind it.

I'm always glad to be asked this question because it's usually asked by a thoughtful person who wants to do their best for their organization. The person has likely been reading or talking to someone who uses the words mission and vision or perhaps has to fill out a form where they are required. People who ask this question are actually aware that you need to have one if not both, and care enough to find out which they should use.

I think there are good reasons why people talk about mission and vision these days.

1. The awareness of mission and vision has three major bases:

There are many books, articles, conferences speakers that speak in lay language about mission and vision. What used to belong to researchers and high level consultants is now everywhere for anyone.

There are consultants aplenty who are trained to use one or the other words and justify neither.

Business models for non-profits use these words and there continues to be a transference of what is good for the 'for profit' sector to the 'not for profit' sector.

2. Funding requirements are now as never before asking for the mission and vision to be filled in the blanks.

3. Semantics are more precise because people talk about it more often. When we invent new words its because this is important for communication. I think that the distinctions between mission and vision are becoming more important.

4. There is a trend to making sure that a framework is in place. People care more about how we do things right and are moving away from the 'just do it' approach to one that requires a more serious framework. The dot com hurry up and get going had its place and lost it to be replaced by a calculated and considered approach.

Here are 7 questions with answers that might help to provide more rationale as to why an organization needs both a mission and a vision:

What exactly are a mission and a vision?

A mission and a vision are statements that have been written to guide certain actions and future states:

A mission is what an organization does, its action; a vision is what an organization would like to happen as a result of the action that it does.

Mission equals the action; vision is the ultimate result of the action.

Mission answers the question "What would not happen if we were not here as an organization?" Or more positively, "What change is achieved because we exist?

Vision answers the question: "What are the results, the ends, the consequences of our action?"

Vision looks forward; mission looks at today.

Do we need both a mission and a vision?

Yes. You need to be able to tell yourself both what you do and why to make sense of your work. I like Joel Barker's quote from the Power of Vision, a training video for organizations who need examples about how individuals and organizations use vision for their success. Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world. If you have just a mission, the action written, - and not the vision, you will not know where you're going or if you have arrived.

In an organization, vision is to leadership as mission is to management. Can everyone be a leader? Can everyone be a manager? No, but you need to have some of both leadership and management.

How do we figure out two when one is hard enough to do?

Vision-creating is one of those things that people either love or hate to do. If you are part of a team that is giving birth to a vision you need to try and be creative about how you do this. This kind of thinking, of visioning, takes time; takes lots of input from members and other key stakeholders; and, I believe it takes a creative and task-oriented facilitator to help it happen.

Which do we decide first - the vision or the mission?

Since the vision is the most difficult for most people to come up with, I suggest that you find the mission first. Focus on the answering the easiest question first - "what do we do?" which gives you the mission, then answer the question - "what will happen as a result of what we do? - which gives you the vision.

How often do we change the mission and vision?

A vision is tied to the strategic plan and may not change in much less than 5 years if not more. A mission could change annually and since it directs the annual or business plan, depends on the external and internal changes. The mission could change in less than 5 years as long as it still fits with the vision.

How do we know our vision and mission are right?

People nod when you tell them what you do.

People who are part of your organization can visualize themselves and what they do in the vision and mission statements.

The mission and vision are still exciting to the creators the morning after the retreat.

The mission and vision make sense for our organization and fits with all we say we are and do.

There's an irresistible pull of emotion in the center of us around the vision - that makes us feel that it's right.

How long are the vision and mission?

Vision and mission statements are just that - brief and concise. If you are writing pages and pages you likely will cause confusion. On the other hand, if you make the statements too short you are likely writing a slogan. Try to keep the vision and mission statements long enough to make sense and short enough for people to remember, and say, easily.

Vision and mission statement are foundational parts of good governance. Organizations which work at having both will find that they will have no problem distinguishing between a vision and mission and using them toward their success.