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Imagine how you would feel if you were sailing in a ship that goes nowhere or walking through a terrain with low visibility. Chances are frustration, demotivation and anger may set in. This is a useful analogy for organisations that do not have a clear vision or mission statement or for that matter, a corporate statement that few, if any, truly believe in.

The value of a good vision or mission statement can probably be best described by the employees of world-renowned organisations such as Hewlett-Packard or Johnson & Johnson who have for a long time been guided, motivated and inspired by their corporate statements.

For Hewlett-Packard employees have long known that radical change in operating practices, cultural norms, and business strategies does not mean losing the spirit of the HP Way - the company's core principles and HP Invent its philosophy.

Johnson & Johnson is an organisation that has continously renewed itself in various ways including revamping its structure and processes while at the same time preserving its ideals embodied in its credo which covers four key areas: customers, employees, communities and shareholders.

So what is a vision statement? A vision statement exemplifies what an organisation wants to be. It focuses on the future; it is inspirational; it provides clear decision-making criteria; and it is timeless. Whereas a mission statement outlines what the company is now. It focuses on today; it identifies the customer(s); it identifies the critical process(es); and it states the level of performance.

Sadly enough, for most organisations, the vision and mission statements have become mere status symbols that have their importance placed on par with other decorative items in the office. The corporate statements have no direct linkage with the operations, employees have long forgotten about the statements, and the only time that conversation centers around the corporate statements is when there isn't enough wall space left to put up other things.

Why do organisations fall into this trap? Firstly, chances are that the creation of the corporate statements was not a shared effort - it could have very well been created by an individual who has positional power - or worse still, by a consultant who has no knowledge of the business. For the corporate statement to have lasting power, its creation must be a joint effort of key stakeholders within the organisation. Failing which, buy-in from stakeholders will be limited and the behaviours or actions may not be in congruence with the intent of the statements.

When an organisation collaboratively decides to express its corporate statements, it gives direction to everyone in the company. By involving stakeholders and giving them a chance to indicate how they perceive the company and to identify what is important to them, "living" the corporate statements becomes much easier as people see the company using their views in the decision process and there is a stronger commitment towards a shared future of the organisation.

Vision statements have no "deadline" - no "by when"; in other words, it aims to answer the question "If we could develop exactly the kind of company we wanted, what would it be like?"

Mission statements, on the other hand, beg the answer to "Why are we doing this?" Also, the mission statement is the motivational component of the vision statement and defines what is important to the individual, department and the organisation.

In setting mission statements, some key questions to ask are:

  • Why are we doing this?

  • What is our purpose?

  • Why does this work matter?

  • What is most important about this work?

  • What will it do for us to fulfill our vision?

  • How will we benefit?

  • Who else will benefit?

The benefits of a clear vision and mission statement will be realised if they speak the organisation's present condition and how the desired state will look like, if they are written in a way that is clear and aids retention, and if they can bring intentions to life. On a final note, although the wordings for the vision and mission statements vary from one organisation to the next, the key is that these statements explain what the company is today; what it wants to be in the future, and the critical factors that guide its decision-making - it is not another decorative item for the wall!

Zack Bana, 2011
Copyright © Beacon Consulting Pte Ltd

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