Mission vs. Vision Statement: Key Differences

Mission vs. Vision Statement: Key Differences

A mission statement and vision statement make for a powerful duo. Collectively known as value statements, they summarize a company’s core values, purpose, and aspirations. But what’s the difference between the two? In this article, we’ll break down the key differences between a mission and a vision statement and fill you in on how to craft both for your company or organization.

Table of contents:

What is a mission statement?

A company’s mission statement is a summary of the organization’s purpose. A good mission statement reads like an answer to the following questions: “What is your company’s purpose for existing?” and, “How does it make the world a better place, and for whom?”

Let’s look at several mission statement examples that achieve this:

  • Nike’s mission statement. “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world. (*If you have a body, you are an athlete.)”
  • IKEA’s mission statement. “To offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
  • Starbucks’ mission statement. “With every cup, with every conversation, with every community—we nurture the limitless possibilities of human connection.”

A mission statement does more than clarify what a company does for the public. Notice that the examples above not only summarize each brand’s purpose but also reflect its personality and values.

It also serves as a roadmap that guides internal decision-making and day-to-day operations. A mission statement should serve as a cornerstone of company culture that can align employees and stakeholders.

What is a vision statement?

While a mission statement reflects why an organization was founded, a company’s vision statement summarizes what it hopes to achieve. A solid vision statement answers the question: “What is your company’s primary long-term goal?”

Here are some great vision statement examples from well-known companies:

  • Amazon’s vision statement. “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, Earth’s best employer, and Earth’s safest place to work.”
  • Tesla’s vision statement. “Building a world powered by solar energy, running on batteries and transported by electric vehicles.”
  • LinkedIn’s vision statement. “Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”

While a clear vision statement is important, don’t be afraid to dream big. Vision statements are no place to worry about setting “realistic” or even measurable goals—many are lofty or aspirational.

A vision statement is less of a roadmap to an achievable end goal than a vision of perfection a company can consistently strive toward. Nonetheless, a great vision statement can be a powerful tool for aligning an organization’s values, long-term goals, and strategic planning efforts.

Differentiating factors

Good mission and vision statements must be aligned and they’ll have several things in common. Both should be short, sweet, and to the point, all while using language that reflects company values, culture, and personality.

Both vision and mission statements also reflect the many internal partnerships needed to accomplish a company’s mission. But in order to craft your own mission or vision statements, it’s essential to understand the nuances between the two.

To clarify, we’ll look at several differentiating factors between mission and vision statements, complete with examples from popular companies.

Time horizon

A mission statement captures the essence of an organization’s purpose. It often describes what the company currently does, and how. On the other hand, a vision statement describes the company’s broader aspirations for the future. It summarizes what its ideal future state would look like if it reaches its full potential.

Target’s mission and vision statements clearly illustrate the difference in time horizon, with the mission focusing on the company’s current purpose and the vision outlining its future aspirations.

Scope and decision-making

A mission statement is more specific than a vision statement, containing tangible goals that can directly influence company culture or business strategy. A vision statement is much more broad and inspirational, though it can be used to inform strategic planning.

  • Southwest Airlines’ mission statement. “Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.”
  • Southwest Airlines’ vision statement.  “To be the world’s most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline.”

Southwest Airlines’ mission statement provides specific goals that guide decision-making, while its vision statement is broader and more inspirational, setting the direction for long-term strategic planning.

Content

Mission statements generally reflect why the company was founded and how it makes the world better for its customers. Some mission statements also touch on the company’s values or the services it provides. Vision statements focus more on long-term goals and what the company can achieve if it lives up to its ultimate purpose.

  • Goodwill’s mission statement. “To enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.”
  • Goodwill’s vision statement. “Every person has the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential and participate in and contribute to all aspects of life.”

Goodwill’s mission statement reflects its purpose and the services it provides, while its vision statement focuses on the long-term goal of empowering individuals to reach their full potential.

Stakeholder orientation

Mission statements focus on the present, detailing the organization’s purpose, core activities, and values to guide internal stakeholders in their daily operations. In contrast, vision statements look to the future, aiming to inspire and unify both internal and external stakeholders around a shared aspiration or ideal that the organization strives to achieve.

Wikimedia Foundation’s mission statement guides internal stakeholders in their daily operations, while its vision statement aims to inspire and unify both internal and external stakeholders around the goal of free knowledge sharing.

Flexibility

Once a company releases its mission statement, it often remains fixed until the company outgrows it. A company’s vision, on the other hand, is a little more flexible. It’s broad enough that it can still apply as the company grows.

  • Coca-Cola’s mission statement. “Refresh the world. Make a difference.”
  • Coca-Cola’s vision statement. “To craft the brands and choice of drinks that people love, to refresh them in body & spirit. And done in ways that create a more sustainable business and better shared future that makes a difference in people’s lives, communities and our planet.”

Coca-Cola’s mission statement is concise and fixed, while its vision statement is more expansive and adaptable to the company’s growth and future challenges.

Hierarchy

Each statement has a distinct hierarchy for organizational alignment and strategic planning. The mission statement forms the foundation, articulating an organization’s purpose and core values. Building on this, the vision statement sets the long-term strategic goal, guiding the organization toward future aspirations.

  • Toyota’s mission statement. “To attract and attain customers with high-valued products and services and the most satisfying ownership experience in America.”
  • Toyota’s vision statement. “To be the most successful and respected car company in America.”

Crafting effective statements

Now that we’ve discussed the differences between mission and vision statements and what each is intended to do, we’ll explain how to create your own. Let’s start with the questions that each of these statements is intended to answer:

  • Mission statement. “What is your company’s purpose for existing? How does it make the world a better place, and for whom?”
  • Vision statement. “What is your company’s primary long-term goal?”

Additional questions to consider that can help you craft compelling and motivating answers to these questions include:

  • What emotions do you want customers to feel when they think of your brand?
  • What inspired your company’s founder to create it?
  • Why do your customers choose your brand over competitors?
  • What would your brand be like if it were a person? Would it be innovative and ambitious, kind and caring, thoughtful and poetic, etc.?
  • What values is your company committed to furthering? Do you champion sustainability, community, spreading knowledge, etc.?
  • What would your company do if allowed to reach its highest potential?
  • How does your company hope to shape the future for the better?

Implementation and impact

No matter how motivating a company’s mission statement is or how ambitious its vision for the future is, these value statements don’t mean much unless they’re acted on. They should do more than just describe your company; they should include common goals to be upheld through company-wide teamwork.

Plenty of case studies point to just how powerful value statements can be when they’re used to drive active initiatives. When Microsoft was first founded, its vision statement sounded just as far-fetched as those of many other companies. But that didn’t stop Microsoft from achieving it.

When Bill Gates first announced his vision of “a computer on every desk and in every home” in the 1970s, the idea sounded impossible to most people. But after Gates’ initial vision went on to become a reality, the company changed its vision statement to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Disney is an example of a company that lives up to its mission statement. The company states that its purpose is “to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company.”

Over a century, Disney has grown from a small cartoon studio into a world-renowned entertainment company. It boasts theme parks worldwide and is home to a huge portfolio of TV and movie studios, including Marvel, Pixar, ABC, and Hulu.

Sector-specific considerations

Some companies—such as Nike and Target—don’t reference the products they sell in their vision or mission statements, while other companies— such as IKEA and Southwest Airlines—do.

Should your own mission or vision statement incorporate your offerings? It depends.

Target, for example, is such a recognizable brand that there’s no need to mention its retail operations in its mission statement. However, if a small retail startup tries the same tactic, it might confuse potential customers.

Also, consider whether your mission is industry-specific. For example, health care companies and nonprofits often mention their services or causes in their mission statements because these are central to their purpose. In contrast, their vision statements can be more general and applicable across industries, focusing on the company’s long-term aspirations and values.

IKEA’s case is similar, as its mission to offer affordable prices is a rarity in the furniture business. It also speaks to the economic and social impact of IKEA’s commitment to ensure that as many people as possible have access to quality home furniture.

There’s no set formula for crafting the perfect value statements. It’s all about figuring out what works best for your company.

Find company statement professionals on Upwork

Clear, impactful vision and mission statements play a powerful role in shaping the culture and future of a company. When well-crafted, these value statements introduce your company to the public and unite internal stakeholders through a common goal.

Some of the world’s most successful companies strive to live up to both their mission and vision statements each day in an effort to create a better world and future. Carefully reflect on your own company’s vision and mission to create value statements that capture your purpose and values.

If you feel stuck, Upwork can help. Upwork’s talent network is home to top independent mission statement professionals happy to help you craft the perfect value statements for your organization.

Or perhaps you’re a mission statement crafting pro searching for your next opportunity? Check out Upwork’s selection of freelance mission statement opportunities to connect with clients from a wide selection of industries.

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Mission vs. Vision Statement: Key Differences
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