Vision and Mission

Back in the late 1980’s when I co-founded my first company there was a trend that companies not only had “missions”, they also had “visions.”

I still remember the vision and mission of Microsoft!

Vision: There will be a PC on every desk and in every home

Mission: To have Microsoft software running on every one of those PCs

Those were great until mobile arrived and perhaps that mission was even a contributor to Microsoft missing out on the move to mobile and smartphones.

So at the suggestion of our CFO, George Pilla, we created both a vision and a mission for Course Technology, Inc., an educational publishing company.  It’s been 27 years since then, so my memory of both is rather foggy, but the vision was something like:

Technology will have a major beneficial impact on higher education. 

Our mission was something like:

To publish technology-based products that help teachers teach and students learn more effectively.

I’ve found the idea of vision has gone away, but startups – both for-profit and especially NPOs – are still fixated on having a mission. I have no problems with missions, but I have one simple test: you should be able to call and wake up anyone in your company at 3 a.m. and ask them to recite the mission. If they can’t do it – usually because it’s too long and complicated – go back to the whiteboard. When I joined Thomson, now Thomson Reuters, their mission went on for pages. I doubt anyone could even recite the first paragraph.

I have a formula that I like to see in mission statements:

The mission of ABC Corp. is to help [your customers] to achieve [solve the problem or seize the opportunity your company was created for in the first place.] by [providing whatever distinguishes your product or service.]

I see to many mission statements that are missing people altogether! These inward-facing mission statements are going to inhibit the company from developing its customer base.

So what good does having a mission do? It can be the first step in creating the corporate culture and help define the company to stakeholders: staff, Board, advisors, partners, etc. It may well be necessary, but it’s far from sufficient. More about corporate culture in another post.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

2 thoughts on “Vision and Mission”

  1. Great distinction between mission and vision! I would not have thought to approach these concepts differently until reading this post.

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    1. Another way to think about vision and mission is that vision is aspirational. It’s a goal that can’t really ever be fully achieved, like “To rid the world of death by hand guns.” But a mission is more operational, “To help gun owners understand and adopt smart gun technology that will limit accidental gun shot deaths.”

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