Articles of Information
Effective Vision and Mission Statements
used properly, vision and mission statements can
be very powerful tools, especially for new and
one of my first jobs out of college, the Fortune
500 company that hired me had its mission posted
in every cubicle: "To continuously exceed our customers'
increasing expectations." I remember looking at
it the first day. It sounded ambitious, but raised
a lot more questions for me than it answered. Who
are our customers? What expectations do they have?
How can I contribute to fulfilling this mission?
And how long did it take a group of our highly paid
executives to choose that particular mission statement
over "To be the number one company in our industry"
or "To be recognized as a worldwide leader in excellence"?
in recent years vision and mission statements have
become watered down in the corporate world to the
point where they are essentially meaningless (bringing
a case of beer along on sales calls may exceed customer
expectations but not necessarily help a business
achieve its goals). Because of this, vision and
mission have been largely branded with negative
connotations. However, when used properly, vision
and mission statements can be very powerful tools,
especially for new and small firms. Just as a successful
coach has a vision for putting a team together and
game plans for successful execution, vision and
mission provide direction for a new or small firm,
without which it is difficult to develop a cohesive
plan. In turn, this allows the firm to pursue activities
that lead the organization forward and avoid devoting
resources to activities that do not.
Statements for New and Small Firms
statements and mission statements are very different.
A vision statement for a new or small firm spells
out goals at a high level and should coincide with
the founder's goals for the business. Simply put,
the vision should state what the founder ultimately
envisions the business to be, in terms of growth,
values, employees, contributions to society, and
the like; therefore, self-reflection by the founder
is a vital activity if a meaningful vision is to
be developed. As a founder, once you have defined
your vision, you can begin to develop strategies
for moving the organization toward that vision.
Part of this includes the development of a company
Statements for New and Small Firms
mission statement should be a concise statement
of business strategy and developed from the customer's
perspective and it should fit with the vision
for the business. The mission should answer three
do we do?
do we do it?
whom do we do it?
do we do? This question should not be answered
in terms of what is physically delivered to customers,
but by the real and/or psychological needs that
are fulfilled when customers buy your products or
services. Customers make purchase decisions for
many reasons, including economical, logistical,
and emotional factors. An excellent illustration
of this is a business in the Twin Cities that imports
hand-made jewelry from east Africa. When asked what
her business does, the owner replied, "We import
and market east African jewelry." But when asked
why customers buy her jewelry, she explained that,
"They're buying a story in where the jewelry came
from." This is an important distinction and answering
this question from the need-fulfilled perspective
will help you answer the other two questions effectively.
do we do it? This question captures the more
technical elements of the business. Your answer
should encompass the physical product or service
and how it is sold and delivered to customers, and
it should fit with the need that the customer fulfills
with its purchase. In the example above, the business
owner had originally defined her business as selling
east African jewelry and was attempting to sell
it on shelves of boutique retail stores with little
success. After modifying the answer to the first
question, she realized that she needed to deliver
the story to her customers along with the product.
She began organizing wine parties that included
a slide show of east Africa, stories of personal
experiences there, and pictures and descriptions
of the villagers who make the jewelry. This method
of delivery has been very successful for her business.
whom do we do it? The answer to this question
is also vital, as it will help you focus your marketing
efforts. Though many small business owners would
like to believe otherwise, not everyone is a potential
customer, as customers will almost always have both
demographic and geographic limitations. When starting
out, it is generally a good idea to define the demographic
characteristics (age, income, etc.) of customers
who are likely to buy and then define a geographic
area in which your business can gain a presence.
As you grow, you can add new customer groups and
expand your geographic focus.
additional consideration with mission statements
is that most businesses will have multiple customer
groups that purchase for different reasons. In these
cases, one mission statement can be written to answer
each of the three questions for each customer group
or multiple mission statements can be developed.
Also, as a final thought, remember that your vision
and mission statements are meant to help guide the
business, not to lock you into a particular direction.
As your company grows and as the competitive environment
changes, your mission may require change to include
additional or different needs fulfilled, delivery
systems, or customer groups. With this in mind,
your vision and mission should be revisited periodically
to determine whether modifications are desirable.
17 , 2005
by Jay Ebbens, Ph.D., Start-Up Expert