What’s the difference between a mission and vision statement?

For many of us, there has always been some confusion about how mission and vision statements differ. Defining them is harder than crafting them, it seems. The process of creating them is almost always painful. The product is typically laminated or framed – and then generally ignored. That’s a shame, but that’s life.

According to Susan Ward, a small business expert, the difference is between present and future. She affirms, “The difference between a mission statement and a vision statement is that a mission statement focuses on a company’s present state while a vision statement focuses on a company’s future.”

That simplifies things greatly. The bigger question might be: are either of these really useful or practical?

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4 Responses

  1. There’s actually a big difference in a mission statement and a vision statement. Maybe this post on vision statements clarifies a bit:

    http://barrettsbook.wordpress.com/2008/05/14/vision-statement/

    While there are varying definitions, I’ve found these to be particularly useful:

    Vision Statement: A statement of the future of your customers, your industry and the markets you serve. A vision statement takes into account economic, sociological, technological and other trends and factors to create a view of what the near-term and intermediate future holds for your customers and industry.

    Mission Statement: A statement of your organizations role, within the future you have envisioned. Your role should describe a leadership position in a specific aspect of the future for your customers.

    Other people may have valid definitions — but I’ve found that these are actually very useful in planning. You can envision the future, using your experience, expertise and insights. And you can define or design a mission given your insights that take into account unstoppable trends.

  2. I really like the way that the Jonathan Spack, executive director of Third Sector New England, tsne.org, (where I work) responded when asked about the difference between mission and vision.

    Spack explained that mission is defined as the purpose for which an organization is founded and exists. Vision is a description of the change that the organization seeks to make.

    But, and here is where I most liked the answer, he said that organizations, businesses, etc. shouldn’t spend too much time focusing on the distinction between these two terms. Instead, the important thing is to focus resources on the impact you want to have.

  3. I really like the answer given in a vlog message (http://tsne.wordpress.com/2008/05/30/vlog_mission/) by Jonathan Spack, ED of Third Sector NE, where I work. He said mission is defined as the purpose for which an organization/ business is founded and exists. Vision is a description of the change that the organization seeks to make.

    But, and here where it gets good, he reminds us that the distinction between these two terms is useful to understand. However, we want to avoid getting caught up for long periods of time in wrestling internally over which is which.

    What we really want to focus our resources on is achieving the impact we want our organization to have in the wider world.

  4. certainly helps to clear up misconceptions.

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