Confused about the difference between mission and vision? or between purpose and mission? You’re not alone. I am frequently asked about the difference between mission vision purpose strategy and goals, and where do values fit?
Many people don’t care about definitions, and that’s unfortunate. Having clear definitions distinguishes the concepts from each other. And since there is an order of operations, where each one drives the next, it’s important to understand how they relate.
Ken Favaro in the Harvard Business Review says “ignoring, blurring, or misunderstanding concepts creates sloppy thinking, deciding, and doing at all levels of an organization.” For example, if you focus on goal-setting without considering the larger vision, you are likely to end up with goals that don’t matter.
However, since there are no commonly agreed upon definitions for any of these terms, you will need to decide which definitions make most sense to you. With that in mind, here are the definitions I’ve found most useful in my work over the past 30 years helping leaders create a compelling vision and identity the strategies to achieve it.
Mission and Purpose
Mission is about who you are. It answers the questions “What is our purpose?” and “Why do we exist?” Some people prefer to use the term Purpose, as there is less confusion about what it means, but essentially mission and purpose are synonyms and mean the same thing.
My definition: Mission is your purpose or reason for existence.
Vision is about the possibilities of what you can become. It encompasses purpose, but is broader. Vision provides a clear picture or mental image of the ideal end-state. Because mission (purpose) is a supporting factor of a clear vision, I include it as one of the components and suggest creating one statement that includes purpose, values and picture of the end result.
My definition: Vision is knowing who you are, where you’re going, and what will guide your journey.
“Who you are” is your purpose (mission.)
“Where you’re going” is the picture of the ideal state.
“What will guide your journey” are your values.
Values are deeply held beliefs about what is right and good and evoke standards that you care deeply about. They drive your behaviors and decisions. We all have values that guide our choices and actions, either consciously or unconsciously. When people in an organization share the same values, they will develop the collective habits that shape the culture of the company. To create an enduring vision, values must support the purpose.
My definition: Values are guiding principles that provide broad guidelines on how to behave on a day-to-day basis.
Strategy explains how the organization will move forward. It describes the broad thrusts or themes from which specific actions arise. There might be three or four key strategies that drive the vision.
My definition: Strategy is a high-level method or plan of action that defines the path toward your vision.
Goals are the milestones that mark your progress toward your vision. They are the actions you intend to take along the path and quantify and define the steps you will take.
My definition: Goals are the specific, measurable actions you intend to take.
The real difference between mission vision purpose strategy and goals
Strategy and goals might change. For example, unforeseen events can throw you off course. A real vision is enduring. It might seem to change, but that’s a function of it becoming more clear as you come closer to it.
Vision and strategy are broad. Goals are focused and specific.
Personally, I don’t bother quibbling about whether you call your statement a mission statement or a vision statement or about whether you have three separate statements or just one statement that includes everything – as long as you end up with clarity on who you are, where you’re going, what will guide your journey, and your next steps. What’s important is to create a common understanding and shared meaning throughout your team or organization about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.