Vision + Strategy = Mission

by Adam on October 18, 2013

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a brainstorming session to help a new company begin to synthesize its mission statement. After several rounds of back and forth with a group of entrepreneurs, in which we had thrown around a number of taglines and punchy phrases that were meant to stand in place of a mission, we realized we needed to go back to the drawing board. A good friend of mine proposed a three-part exercise that ended up being of great use in these endeavor, and after walking through it, I thought it would be worthwhile to share the foundation of it in hopes that it will aid others in the midst of such a discussion.

A mission statement, as its most basic, is a set of core principles that drive an organization. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs compile their mission statement by talking about all the different things they will do and who they will do it for. But, without a strong basis from which to build such an assertion, mission statements can sometimes become lost in grandiosity or fist-pumping affirmation that ultimately is just a bunch of puffery and cliches that don’t hold much meaning for the intended audience. I found, after walking through the process of coming up with a mission statement, that the exercise is more than just about brainstorming core values and stringing them together in a paragraph to form a mission, but rather involves three distinct portions of the new business:

  • Vision – What is the company going to do? What are its ultimate goals?
  • Strategy – How will the company and its employees accomplish those goals?
  • Mission – Why will the company do this? What does fulfillment of these goals accomplish.

Put another way: Vision + Strategy = Mission

Each of the above pieces is handled in a similar way, so as to maximize creative input from all participants, but it is also designed so that each new step in the process is informed by the last.

So, to start, tackle vision and think about what your company goals are. In a familiar brainstorming style, have everyone in the room throw their ideas out on the table, in succinct and keyword-oriented phrases that can be quickly written down on a whiteboard (assign someone to write the ideas down and someone else to take notes). Come up with as many ideas as possible, and once you have them all down, go back through the list. The goal for the second part of the process is to whittle down the list to the top 3-5 choices that everyone can agree on. Once you have those, make sure to transcribe them, and move onto strategy.

Repeat the above process, but keep in mind that you have to relate the strategies to the top vision-oriented goals you just came up with, so there’s a bit more focus involved. Again, once done brainstorming, pick the top 3-5 choices. You’ve now begun to synthesize your company’s goals and how you will reach them.

With both of those elements in hand, you can now move onto the crux of the work, coming up with your mission. Take your goals, and how you will accomplish them, and use that for a frame to brainstorm why you will do these things. Again, use the whiteboard to throw all ideas on the table and then synthesize the top choices. Contrary to popular belief, the mission statement doesn’t have to be one idea and it usually can’t be distilled into a simple phrase or sentence.

Keep in mind that brainstorming can take multiple sessions and oftentimes requires revisiting what you’ve come up with to be sure all around the table are still comfortable with it. Also, as a side note I find that a good way to prep for this kind of mission statement brainstorming session is to provide all involved with examples of vision and mission statements from key companies or competitors. Use large corporations as an example as well, and often you will find good inspiration that lays the groundwork.

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