Vision vs. Mission

Mission Impossible“Your mission, should you choose to accept it.”

It’s been nearly 25 years but I still vividly remember those words from the television show Mission Impossible. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a remake of the original show which aired 25 years before that. I also didn’t realize the two series might have contributed to the long-standing confusion on what a mission is.

People are constantly interchanging the words mission and vision, as if they are the same thing. When I point this out to them, I’m often told I’m being too pedantic. I disagree – words matter.

A vision statement is the summary of how an organization would like to be perceived in the future. It should be written from an outside-in external perspective so that it attracts people who do not work for the organization, not just employees. As such, it should be stated in ‘visionary’ colorful terms.

Consider the vision statement for CVS Caremark:

We strive to improve the quality of human life

It’s simple and inspirational. However, I prefer vision statements that are differentiated and not easily claimed by other organizations. This one could work for a hospital as well.

Despite what I learned from the TV show, the mission statement explains why an organization exists, usually from an internal perspective. It often describes the financial or customer results the organization wants to achieve over the mid-to-long term. An organization’s strategic objectives should be tied directly to the mission so that it guides day-to-day operations and decision-making. Good mission statements improve alignment.

Coming back to CVS Caremark:

Above all else… our mission is to improve the lives of those we serve by making innovative and high-quality health and pharmacy services safe, affordable, and easy to access.

Personally, I’m struck by the phrase “above all else.” It’s powerful. In fact, the entire mission statement reinforces a focus on patient needs much more clearly than just saying customer-centric. Some people might quibble it’s not specific enough but that issue can be handled through corporate strategic objectives.

Vision, mission, values, and strategy. I believe careful definition of each of these items matter. However, I haven’t seen any quantitative research that proves it one way or another.

So, readers, do you know of any concrete evidence? It’s your mission – should you choose to accept it.


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