Oct 152010
 

I’m sometimes confused by mission statements and vision statements.  Sometimes I can’t tell the difference, and I don’t think it’s always my fault.

In a 2005 post at Lifehack, Rosa Say wrote that the difference only matters if you use the the statements.

Vision Statements and Mission Statements can be power-packed drivers in a company culture when they are done right, and when they are used to release the potent energy within the people who make up that company. (Don’t for a moment think that companies are made up of anything else.)

The best missions and visions become mantras for action; they’re catalysts. The worst ones are those pretty, carefully crafted ones up on the walls in frames that are long and detailed: too much to memorize and remember, too much to bother with at all. No one pays attention to them, and no one lives them. Rotate them with famous quotations or snippets from eloquent speeches and no one will even notice, because none of the real people in the company say those things.

She offers these crisp descriptions:

  • Your mission is what you do best every day.
  • Your vision is what the future is like because you do that.

I wandered sideways into this topic because of Saving Private Ryan.  Though it’s been years since I saw the movie, one scene stayed in my mind as an example of people on the front line understanding the bigger picture.  It’s a brief exchange between Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and Captain Fred Hamill (played by Ted Danson), not long after the allies had secured the Normandy beachhead.

That short conversation begins at about the 5:45 mark in this clip.  (I’ve put a transcript of the conversation below.)

Hamill: What have you heard?  How is it all falling together?

Miller: Well, we got the beachhead secure.  Problem is, Monty’s taking his time movin’ on Caen.  We can’t pull out till he’s ready, so…

Hamill: That guy’s overrated.

Miller: No argument here.

Hamill: You gotta take Caen so you can take Saint-Lô.

Miller: You gotta take Saint-Lô to take Valognes.

Hamill: Valognes, you got Cherbourg.

Miller: Cherbourg, you got Paris.

Hamill: Paris, you got Berlin.

Miller: And then that big boat home.

I have no idea if real captains talked like this, but I like the capsulization.  Especially because in under 50 words, it sketches a broad plan while showing that the two men get the plan.  (The landing on Omaha beach was due north of Saint-Lô, roughly where the B is on this map.)

The route to the big boat home

 

In a completely different setting, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines said, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds.  This is it: we are THE low-fare airline.  Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can.”

Chip and Dan Heath, in Made to Stick, note that this idea “isn’t the whole story, of course.”  Many Southwest employees take great satisfaction in their jobs, although Southwest is thrifty to an extreme and “it’s not supposed to be fun to work for pennypinchers.”  A clear, shared sense of purpose can’t hurt.

 

Vision Statements and Mission Statements can be power-packed drivers in a company culture when they are done right, and when they are used to release the potent energy within the people who make up that company. (Don’t for a moment think that companies are made up of anything else.) The best missions and visions become mantras for action; they’re catalysts. The worst ones are those pretty, carefully crafted ones up on the walls in frames that are long and detailed: too much to memorize and remember, too much to bother with at all. No one pays attention to them, and no one lives them. Rotate them with famous quotations or snippets from eloquent speeches and no one will even notice, because none of the real people in the company say those things.

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