I have developed and facilitate a class on strategic planning. One of the things we discuss is how organizational mission, vision, and core values are a foundation of strategic planning. As part of keeping my materials updated, I search for current examples of these from real companies. And I have found that it is difficult to find a well-known company with a defined mission, vision, and values (at least that is publicly available).

Most recently, I found several companies with a mission (Google, Target), some with a mission and values (Starbucks, Whole Foods Market), and one, Marriott, that deliberately does not have a mission statement but does have a vision statement and core values. The only company I found that had a mission, vision, and values was Southwest Airlines. (Despite their holiday season debacle, Southwest is still projected to turn a profit in 2022 and, until the pandemic hit, had 47 consecutive years of profitability). With so few real-world examples, it makes sense if we do not understand the meaning and importance of mission, vision, and core values.

So what is the benefit of creating these things for your organization? Let’s first define these terms:

Mission: The organization purpose and reason for being. What are we doing today, and why? Who are our clients, and how do we provide value to them? This frequently reflects the values of the organization and answers how we will achieve our vision.

Vision: The desired future state. Where are we headed, and what do we want to be known for? This should align with organizational values.

Core Values: Principles that guide and define the conduct of an organization, both internal and external.

The most powerful versions of mission, vision, and values are concise, inspirational, and specific to your organization, not generic statements. And if constructed thoughtfully, they provide important and necessary direction for your organization, today and in the future.

This makes sense intuitively: how can the individuals in your organization work to achieve common goals if they do not know what tenets guide their work, and what future state they are working toward? A study conducted at McMaster University confirmed that well-formulated mission statements have a positive association with organizational performance by aligning and motivating employees. Another study at Sharda University concluded that vision and mission significantly influence organizational performance and that collective effort in the formulation of the vision and mission statement is equally important. And in the Harvard Business Review article Building Your Company’s Vision, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras found that companies guided by core values, purpose (mission), and vision “outperformed the general stock market by a factor of 12 since 1925.”  They also found that “the visionary companies displayed a remarkable ability to achieve even their most audacious goals.”

There is a reason it is a challenge to find a company that has a mission, vision, and values that are clear, succinct, and powerful – doing this well is not easy. But it is possible. And if we are willing to make the effort to do this well, we not only embrace our roles as leaders but give our organizations and employees the guidance they need to be successful.

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