What’s The Difference Between Vision, Mission, and Purpose?


 
Purpose statements, mission statements, vision statements.
It can get really cluttered really fast.

It seems like every organization has a different method when it comes to declaring their purpose. Some just have a mission statement. Some have a mission statement and a vision statement. Some just have a declared purpose. And some others use a totally different term to describe a that bit of prose they put on a plaque in the office or publish at the front of a 10-K report.

And if you go from organization to organization, you can get really confused because the definitions change from company to company.

There’s a lot of clutter out there.

But in this article, we’re going to cut through that clutter. We’ll cover the difference between vision, mission and purpose. As well as how they interrelate to each other and how they affect each other. And we’ll also cover whether or not your organizations even needs all three, or whether or not one simple statement could accomplishes the goals of all three.

What Is A Vision Statement?

A vision statement is a statement of what the future looks like if the organization is successful. It’s a statement of where you as a company are headed. A vision statement describes what the world will look like if you achieve the mission that serves your purpose (more on those in a little bit).

And the thing about vision statements is that they are by nature aspirational. They are meant to inspire by painting a picture of a future worth working towards. All leadership involves change to some extent and your vision statement is a picture of what the world looks like when you have finished that change.

But since it’s about the change that you’re working towards, a vision can’t stand alone. You still need to describe how you plan on making that change. There has to be a plan for what you’re doing to make that vision a reality. That’s where mission comes into play.

What Is A Mission Statement?

So if the vision statement answers what the world is going to look like in the future, your mission on the other hand answers the question “how?” as in “how are we going to make that vision a reality?” How are we going to behave?” How are we going to win? How do we define the objectives to measure whether we’re making progress?

Mission statements can be where you talk about how lives are changed. And mission statements can be where you talk about how objectives are won. Mission statements can even include the products or service that you sell. In fact, a lot of great mission statements put a specific number of lives changed via products or services offered. The point is that mission sets inside vision and describes the plan of action.

Your vision is what the world’s going look like when you’ve achieved your mission.

But there’s still an unanswered question. With vision and mission we have the “what?” and the “how?” respectively. But we still need to answer the “why?” That’s where purpose comes in.

What Is A Purpose Statement?

A purpose statement explains your organization’s reason for existence. It explains why your organization began, and why it’s on that journey. It explains what injustice in the world it is seeking to right or what opportunity it is seeking to leverage. A purpose statement can be answered with that sort of founding story, but often it’s a declarative statement that offers the same explanation of values and how the organization’s existence is upholding those values.

So now we can take all three together. And look at it from the outside in, because these three elements nest inside each other. We started with this idea of vision, which is what the world will look like when you achieve the mission, which is how you’re going to put into action your purpose, which is your reason for existence. Take a look:

We have the vision, which is the what.
We have the mission, which is the how.
We have the purpose, which is the why.

But here’s the key thing that many organizations get wrong. If we think about vision, mission, and purpose as concentric circles. Purpose still isn’t the center of our circle.

People are.

Inside all three of these circles are people. The people that are in your charge. The people that have joined your organization or that you want to attract to your organization. It starts with them and their aspirations.

There is a common misconception when it comes to vision, mission, and purpose. We think that leaders are supposed to draft a vision and then “sell” that vision to their people and get “buy-in” on the mission. But great leader didn’t just start with some flowery language and try and sell it to other people. Great leaders didn’t just go on some offsite retreat with the other senior leaders and pay a consultant to come up with this grandiose prose of mission, vision and purpose.

Great leaders didn’t cast a vision and try and sell it to other people.
Great leaders found a way to put to words the vision that was already in the hearts and minds of the people in their charge.

So a purpose statement, a mission statement, and a vision statement all radiate out from people. They radiate out from what is on their hearts and their minds. And as a leader the best thing you can do is make sure your purpose, your mission, your vision, or all of the above answer one question for your people:

What are we fighting for?

What is in the world that we’re tired of and we’re willing to start changing? What in the world do we see as injustice and want to say “no longer.” What is it in the world that the whole world finds acceptable that your people refuse to accept? Or what is the battle that your customers or stakeholders are fighting that you help by your existence?

People don’t want to join a company, even a company with a fancy mission statement. They want to join a crusade.

And if your vision statement, mission statement, and/or purpose statement don’t convey that crusade, then they likely won’t connect with your people. If they present a desirable picture of the future, but lack a description of what’s at stake if that future isn’t brought to being, then they likely aren’t inspiring your people sufficiently.

It all starts with answering “what are we fighting for?”

And once we have a clear and concise answer to that, then we’re safe to write our purpose statement, our mission statement, and our vision statement.


 


If you want to learn even more about the importance of purpose and a cause worth fighting for, check out my new audiobook Pick A Fight: How Great Teams Find A Purpose Worth Rallying Around at the links below.

Audible Amazon iTunes


6 Responses to “What’s The Difference Between Vision, Mission, and Purpose?”

  1. DAVID – excellent job distinguishing between these. Always confusing to me! Thank you!

  2. Laura says:

    David, I’ve been reflecting on how to bring our company’s vision and mission statements alive. This article even helped me realize that we also have a purpose statement that has become viral through a # with three words. Timely release, thank YOU!

  3. Anthony DiMaio (@AmericanWritr) says:

    David, really enjoyed these robust 7 minutes of inspir-action. It provided the accurate definitions of mission, vision & purpose, along with the practical context within which they function, or are designed to function.