“Mission” and “vision” are often used interchangeably in the literature on leadership. My experience has been that much can be gained from clearly distinguishing the two concepts. Both terms refer to a future state achieved as a result of signiicant change. A vision, however, is a vague (though actionable) picture of the initiating leader's future state. It is something both different and desirable, something that can be achieved only through considerable effort, perhaps decades of it. It is a target that provides direction for the activities of an organization that is committed to positive change.
A mission, by contrast, though it does all of that, does so within a time frame of perhaps three to ive years. Thus, it needs to be more speciic so as to provide direction to the organization within that time frame. The mission statement for EcoSynthetix is provided to illustrate the differences between its vision and its mission. The actual values for the measures of success and the actual year when the milestones would be expected to be achieved (three years from the date the mission was designed) are not given here.
We drive stakeholder value through rapid innovation and sustainable growth by leveraging our enterprise to deliver bio-based materials worldwide.
• Revenue generation: $X per year
• Value realization: Y new customers
Strategic relationships established: Companies A and B
• Value creation: Z new products developed
The vision is the architect of change; the mission is the builder of change. A mission deines the organization's purpose clearly and in a way that relects its vision, which by deinition is longer-term and less speciic. A mission focuses on the organization's expected speciic outputs over three to ive years. Below I summarize the differences and similarities between a vision and a mission.
• Both are “owned” by the organization's leader as well as by others who
have been fully engaged in formulating them.
• Both are meant to inluence, inspire, and energize the people in the organization so that they will understand and act on the leader's new direction.
• Both describe what is possible. Mission statements, it must be pointed out, are sometimes too focused on what is, or they too closely relect the current state. This is not useful.
• A mission statement should describe some important stakeholderspeciic goals or targets that are measurable and that will move the organization towards the future state described by the vision, which is inevitably vaguer.
• While a mission and a vision are both future looking, the vision is what
leadership wants the future to look like, whereas the mission is more of a link to strategic intent, one that describes in broad terms what the business is and what its direction needs to be towards that future.
To illustrate some of these points, the global mission statement for Greenpeace is reproduced here:
Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment and to promote peace by:
• Catalyzing an energy revolution to address the number one threat facing
our planet: climate change. • Defending our oceans by challenging wasteful and destructive ishing, and
creating a global network of marine reserves.
• Protecting the world's remaining ancient forests which are depended on by
many animals, plants and people.
• Working for disarmament and peace by reducing dependence on inite resources and calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
• Creating a toxic free future with safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals
in today's products and manufacturing.
• Campaigning for sustainable agriculture by encouraging socially and ecologically responsible farming practices.3
Greenpeace's mission statement can serve as a model for others. As with other mission statements we have seen, there is an introductory paragraph followed by detailed goals and objectives. The former is brief; each word, though, is important and speaks to a speciic behaviour or strategy. This is a very strong role model mission statement from which much can be learned about structure and form.