The lowdown on mission and vision statements
Here’s what they’re for (and how to actually use them)
Why does your company exist? What do you hope to accomplish in the next several years?
On the surface, those questions seem like pretty straightforward. But if you’ve ever had to respond with something concise and powerful, you know that it’s way more challenging than it seems.
This is where your mission and vision statements come in. To craft them, you need to put in the work to understand what your company is all about, as well as where you’re headed in the future.
And once you’ve invested the elbow grease to do so, you’ll be prepared to respond to questions about your reason for being with something impressive – rather than silence and a deadpan expression.
So, let’s dig into everything you need to know about mission and vision statements, shall we?
Mission statements vs. vision statements
Sometimes the terms “mission statement” and “vision statement” are used interchangeably or even combined into a single statement.
But they mean two very different things. Your mission statement is what your company is doing right now, while your vision statement is what you hope to achieve in the future – where you are in this moment versus where you’re going.
Let’s bring this home: if someone asks you, “So, what do you do?” you might say, “I’m a software developer at a mid-size software company” or “I’m a circus clown.”
But, what if they asked you, “What do you want to be doing five or 10 years from now?” Your answer might be a bit different, right?
Maybe you’d say, “My goal is to move into a management position where I oversee all of the company’s developers” or “Ultimately, I’d like to be a world-famous clown and the choice entertainer at birthday parties for celebrities’ kids.”
Mission statement examples
We’ve put together a mini list of inspiration to help you get started. Below are some winning mission statements from a few well-known companies. We know it’s tempting, but no, you cannot copy them.
sweetgreen: “Our mission is to inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.”
Nike: “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. *If you have a body, you are an athlete.”
Etsy: “Our mission is to Keep Commerce Human.”
LinkedIn: “Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”
How to write a mission statement
Alright, now the real work begins: rolling up your sleeves and pulling together your own mission statement.
Let’s mention one more thing about what a mission is not – a slogan. A slogan (think “Just do it” or “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”) is a catchy marketing line that customers can immediately associate with a brand. Your mission statement is more than that. It captures the heart of your organization and explains why you do what you do and why you exist in the first place.
A solid mission statement calls for you to dig deep, beyond just “Do a good job” or “Delight our customers”, which can make writing your mission statement tough. Fortunately, we’ve broken it down into three (kind of) easy steps.
1. Start with the basics
Mission statements run the gamut from one sentence to several paragraphs, and there’s a lot that they can include. Some mission statements even go into detail about how a company not only serves their customers, but also their employees and communities.
But, let’s just keep this simple for now. In its most basic form, your mission statement should capture:
- What your company offers your customers (why do you exist?)
- Who your company serves (who are your target customers?)
- Why your company stands out (what makes you different from your competitors?)
Grab your favorite pen (we know you have one!) and a notepad and write a short (just a single sentence fragment will work) response to each of those prompts.
For example, imagine that you work for a software company that developed an app that uses highly tailored personality tests to match candidates with dream jobs. You might come up with something like this:
- What your company offers your customers
An easy solution to finding a dream job
- Who your company serves
Young professionals who feel lost about their next career steps
- Why your company stands out
Your personality assessments are patented and highly rated
Got your own answers scribbled down? Great! Let’s move to the next step.
2. Piece it together
You have the nuts and bolts of your mission statement figured out, but, let’s be honest, it’s still a hot mess. It’s time to tape them together into a more readable statement.
Begin rearranging the pieces, swapping in different words, and making other changes to come up with a few potential statements.
Don’t feel like you’re married to the very first version you come up with. It’s all about trial and error here. Plus, the more options you come up with, the more flexibility you have to land on something that sings.
Sticking with our personality test company example, you might develop these potential mission statements:
- Helping young professionals find careers where they can thrive with patented and effective personality assessments.
- Growing tomorrow’s leaders through targeted personality assessments that match young professionals with careers.
- Forging career pathways for today’s professionals through effective personality assessments.
- Using patented and customized personality assessments to help young professionals find their perfect careers.
They’re all pretty solid choices, right? Don’t worry. The next step will help us narrow these down.
3. Collect feedback and refine
Your mission statement captures your company as a whole, which means you can’t write it in a vacuum. Make sure it really does your organization justice by welcoming other viewpoints in the process.
Collect feedback from your teammates, leaders, board of directors, and loyal customers. You can gather their thoughts through a formal survey, focus groups, or just casual one-on-one chats.
Pull together all of the mission statements that you came up with (that you think are good options, of course), and ask questions like:
- Which of these statements do you like the most? Why?
- Which of these statements do you like the least? Why?
- Is there anything that you think these statements are missing?
- Do you have any other ideas for mission statements?
The trick here is that you can’t just collect that feedback – you should actually think about and work with it.
Imagine that in response to the personality test mission statement options, most people agreed that they wanted to see something shorter and snappier. You take that in and end up with a final mission statement like this:
Building better careers through customized personality assessments.
Bam! You have your mission statement. It seems easy peasy laid out like this, right? But don’t fret if it’s not done in a snap for you.
It might take some time and many rounds of revisions to nail it. That’s totally normal. Take it as a sign that you’re giving your mission statement the effort and consideration it deserves.
Vision statement examples
Forecasting the future of your company – and with such bravado – makes creating a vision statement a strange (and somewhat braggy and therefore slightly uncomfortable) task. But, seriously, that’s what a vision is all about. See below for examples of companies who have taken this task and owned it.
Habitat for Humanity: “A world where everyone has a decent place to live.”
Ford: “To become the world’s most trusted company.”
Ben & Jerry’s: “We make the best possible ice cream in the best possible way.”
Dow: “We want to become the most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive, and sustainable materials science company in the world. Our goal is to deliver value growth and best-in-class performance.”
You’ll notice that nonprofits tend to describe an ideal world while for-profit companies describe their place in an ideal world.
How to write a vision statement
You probably don’t have a crystal ball that will help you foresee the future of your company (although, if you do, are you willing to share?).
So, coming up with your vision statement can be a challenge for someone without psychic abilities, since it makes you think super big. Zoom out and ask yourself, “What’s the ultimate purpose I’m serving?”
Have no fear, we’ve boiled this vital project into three approachable steps.
1. Define your end game
Start by understanding why your product or service matters. What does it help people do? How does it better their lives?
Think about our career personality test example for a moment. What’s the end result there? Nope, it’s not the app itself. The ultimate result (and value!) is a match with a career that seems like a perfect fit.
Think of it this way: Your company is the road on which your customers are running a race. Once they cross the finish line, what do they get? This can help you see how what you’re doing makes a difference for your customers, your community, or even the world.
2. Pinpoint when you know you’ve made it
When you look five or 10 years down the road (let’s stop there for now), what fills out your win column? Jot down everything that comes to mind.
Turning back to our personality test scenario, do you want to become the world’s most trusted resource for career exploration? Do you want to create a world where nobody hates their jobs? Do you want every person to have confidence in their next career step?
Remember, this is your chance to be ambitious and be bold, so don’t be timid. Find your swagger and go big!
3. Pull together your vision
Ok, you’re almost there. You have two elements locked down:
- What you ultimately produce and why it matters
- How you’ll know when you’re successful
Now, similarly to what you did with your mission statement, it’s time to start piecing them together using different combinations and wording to see what you come up with.
Sticking with our running career test example, your vision statement could be any one of the following (among many other gazillion options you come up with, of course).
- Position ourselves as the most trusted partner in career exploration.
- Build a world where absolutely nobody dreads heading to work.
- Create a career landscape where Monday is just as great as Friday.
Again, this is a game of trial and error until you’re happy with a near-final product that you can run by other people for feedback.
At the end of that, you’ll have a vision statement that sums up your goals for the future of your organization.
Purpose of vision and mission statements
We won’t be offended if you’re wondering, “What’s the point of all this?”
Trust us: creating these statements is worth the sweat. They’re far more than formalities and really can be useful for your organization.
Your mission statement highlights your company’s core values and helps everybody – from your customers to your employees – immediately understand what your business is about and how you’re different from your competitors.
Your vision statement serves as a roadmap of sorts. It’s an inspiring reminder of what you’re working toward, which is easy to lose sight of when you’re bombarded with the day to day.
But here’s the thing: you can’t stop at just creating them. In order for them to do their job, you need to actively promote and live them.
That doesn’t just mean slapping them up on your website or printing them on a poster that hangs in your break room. You need to integrate them as core parts of your culture by always acting and making decisions with those statements in mind.
Plus, you need to educate your employees about what your mission and vision are, and what they really mean. One survey found that a whopping 61% of employees didn’t know their company’s mission statement. You can’t really expect your team to help you achieve your mission and vision if they don’t know what they are.
So, give new employees the message on day one. Make your company mission and vision part of the onboarding process for new hires, and return to these statements whenever you’re launching new projects, problem-solving, brainstorming, or making big decisions.
Do that, and your mission and vision statements won’t be a formality. They’ll be fundamental to the way you do business.
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