In the first article about how to create a vision, I talked about what makes an effective vision. Another aspect of visions that requires some definition is their purpose. Some leaders may say why bother? They are doing fine without a vision. I would argue they have a vision whether they realize it or not. A vision describes a desired future state. That could be years out in the future or something much more tangible and within reach. The key is having a vision of the future we are moving towards.
One of the most confusing aspects of visions that I hear questioned over and over is the difference between a vision and a mission. Some people see them as the same thing, others are unsure if you need one or both. To me, they are distinct and both are important. A vision is a description of a future state. A destination you wish to arrive at. A mission is different. It isn’t a destination, it is more fundamental than that. It is your reason for existing, what you are here to do.
Why is a mission necessary?
You may wonder why you need to specify what you are here to do. That may seem obvious. Intel’s mission is to make microprocessors. While that is certainly what it does, Intel sees its mission to be much broader. Their stated mission is “We create world-changing technology that improves the life of every person on the planet.” As you can see, it is broader than microprocessors, it talks about creating technology that improves the life of every person on the planet.
Another example is Tesla. You may think Tesla’s mission is to create electric powered vehicles. That is what they do, but their mission is much broader. It is “Accelerating the World’s Transition to Sustainable Energy.” Creating electric cars is part of this but they have other businesses as well such as solar power, batteries and more.
So why is this is important and how is it relevant to visions?
You could set out a vision of almost anything. The mission, a company’s purpose provides the scope a vision needs to fit within. For Tesla, their vision shouldn’t be limited to electric vehicles, it should focus on the broader topic of sustainable energy. What Tesla can do to accelerate the transition from traditional energy sources. This provides a broad scope within which to create a variety of desired future outcomes.
The final difference I will touch on is the frequency of changing missions and visions. Missions describe a company’s purpose and as such, that doesn’t change often. Especially, if like Tesla and Intel, it is described broadly. Visions on the other hand change much more frequently. The vision describes a future state you wish to achieve. What happens when you get there? You need to describe the next one. The world around us is also changing rapidly and visions need to keep pace. Sometimes they must change before they are achieved to stay relevant.
Going back to the questions about visions and missions, I hope you now see they are different and distinct. I also recommend every company take the time to define both their vision and their mission. In part three of this series about how to create a vision, I will talk about a simple process to do just that.