Mission, Vision and Values: Do I Need All Three?

In a previous post I wrote about the importance of developing a unified vision for helping an organization to achieve accelerated and profitable growth. A lawyer from London who read the article asked:

"What is the difference between vision, mission and values, what does each component do and why do you need all of them?"

The terms mission, vision and values have become over used words and often are confused with old fashion strategic planning retreats where hours and even days are spent word-smithing a mission statement that is never looked at again. Many times the words are interchanged causing more confusion over the benefit for creating a mission, vision and value statement.

The Following provides a brief overview of Mission, Vision and Values and why you need all three:


Mission: Mission or purpose is the reason for the firm or organizations existence. It answers the question, why do we exist? Another way to look at mission is to ask, what would happen if we disappeared?

Why do we need a mission? Mission is your raison d'etre, your "reason for being" and is what keeps the excitement and motivation in your work. Knowing the "why" behind the "what" is how you create focus, alignment and commitment in your organization.

We all want to be part of something that makes a difference and is deeper than making a profit. A strong "reason for being" is what allows you to achieve what others might view as impossible. It is what motivates ordinary people and organizations to achieve extra ordinary results.

Nelson Mandela comes to mind when I think of a person with a strong sense of purpose. His life has been dedicated to "the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."

Similar to successful and extraordinary individuals, successful businesses also have a clearly defined mission statement. The mission of Google, one of the most successful companies in the 21st Century, is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Your mission statement will help your organization to attract the right clients, the right employees and help you to make decisions that are in alignment with your core purpose. Your mission will keep your organization focused on "why it exists" and provide inspiration, direction and motivation to pursue goals when inevitable obstacles get in the way.

Vision: Vision is a clear image of your desired future. Think Martin Luther King and his "I have a dream" speech. It is a picture of the future you seek to create. A statement of your vision shows everyone in your firm or organization where you want to go and what you will be like when you get there. Vision answers the question, what is the final result we want?

Why do we need vision? Vision paints a picture of what everyone agrees the organization will look like in the future. It gives shape and direction to the organization's future and helps people set goals and prioritize strategies for moving the organization closer to its desired results.

My favorite vision example is Henry Ford's vision to democratize the automobile. Ford wanted to build a motor car for the masses that everyone could afford. Imagine the power of this vision during the early 1900's when the primary means of transportation was horse and buggy.

Once you are clear on what your vision is, then you can make your vision a reality by focusing your plan on the strategies that are in alignment with the result you want to achieve.

Values: Values describe how we intend to operate, on a day-by day basis, as we pursue our vision. Values are best expressed in terms of behavior and are the guiding principles by which an organization operates. What do we do when no one is watching?

Why do we need to define values? Unlike a vision which can change, values never change and are the "rudder of the ship" helping an organization to make decisions and behave in a manner that is in alignment with what the organization stands for.

Imagine how different our economic situation would be if individuals, mortgage companies and banks defined and upheld the values that were most important. An overzealous vision without values can create catastrophic outcomes similar to Enron, Bernie Madoff, AIG and former Morgan Stanley executives jailed for stock loan fraud, etc.

In Summary, Mission is our "reason for being" and answers the question, why do we exist? Vision answers the question, what do we want to achieve? Values answer the question, what do we stand for?

Whether you are a lawyer in a law firm, a sole proprietor or a collaborative practitioner whose goal is to attract more desirable clients , knowing what your vision, mission and values are will lay the ground work for achieving extraordinary results.

I have been helping businesses and law firms to achieve extraordinary results by facilitating the creation of mission, vision and values for over twenty years. Please contact me if you have questions or would like more information on how to create your firms vision and mission.

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Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Hasan - September 20, 2009 11:23 AM

Excellent explanation as it conforms with mine. some auther considr what we call vision as mission. a lot of confusion exists in some books also.

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