Tips for Creating Mission Statements

Purpose, Vision, and Mission Statements

Purpose, Vision, Mission, and Value Proposition statements are all important to focus an organization for employees, customers, and investors.

Purpose and Mission statements can be powerful tools for achieving motivated, creative, empowered employees.

This page makes a distinction between both purpose and mission statements and provides you guidance for constructing them.  Sounds easy.  It’s tough to do well, but worth the effort.  A galvanizing mission can be of immense value.

What is a Mission Statement?  (from James Collins and Jerry Porras)

A true mission is a clear and compelling goal that focuses people’s efforts.  It is tangible, specific, crisp, clear and engaging.  It reaches out and grabs people in the gut.  Example:

“This nation should dedicate itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

Like the moon flight, a good mission has a clear finish line — you should be able to tell when you’ve done it — at which point, you need to create a new mission.  “We’re going to climb Mount Everest” is a mission; the more general, “We’re going to climb the Himalayas” is not.

And, like the moon flight, a good mission is risky, falling in a gray zone where reason says, “This is unreasonable”; and your intuition and drive say, “But we believe we can do it anyway.”

Good Mission Statements are very powerful and motivating.  There are abundant jokes about MBAs and bad mission statements.  Don’t be swayed!

Good Mission Statements don’t need wordsmithing — people “get it”, no matter how you say it.

In summary, a mission is

  • “What we are here to do”
  • A clear and compelling goal that serves to unify an organization’s efforts
  • Crisp, clear, engaging, verging on unreasonable

Several approaches can be useful to defining a mission:

  • Targeting: set a clear, definable target and aim for it (e.g. NASA moon mission)
  • Common Enemy: create a goal focused on defeating a common enemy (e.g. Pepsi: “Beat Coke!”)
  • Role Model: select a well-known success and emulate it (e.g. Giro Sport Design: “to be to the cycling industry what Nike is to athletic shoes and Apple is to computers”)

Some people apply the label “Mission Statement” to a Purpose Statement but that loses the opportunity to clarify a short-term objective.  I like the military connotation.  It’s a clear, definable and motivational point of focus.  It’s an achievable goal, a clear finish line to work towards, the next short-term milestone, the next “hill to take”.

That’s what has worked best for me, but here’s my advice: Don’t get hung up on competing alternative definitions for Purpose and Mission statements, or even Purpose and Vision statements!  Choose whatever moves your organization forward and go with it!

Getting a team in alignment is a very powerful thing.  Consciously and unconsciously, people are making decisions all day long.  It is human nature that people want to do the right thing.  A clear mission statement empowers people to set the correct priorities and make the correct decisions.

What is a Purpose Statement?  (from James Collins and Jerry Porras)

Purpose is the fundamental set of reasons for the organization’ existence — in the broadest, most enduring sense what people in the organization want to contribute to the external world.  In an ongoing organization, such as a corporation or an educational institution, purpose is continually pursued, but never fully achieved.  It is not a specific objective that you accomplish and then say, “We are done.”  Effective purpose is broad and inspirational, something that strikes a basic chord and provides a clear sense of direction for the organization and its members.

In the case of the space program, Kennedy’s purpose was not to put a human being on the moon by the end of the decade (again, this was a mission).  Rather, it was to work toward making the United States the greatest and most respected nation in the world, and Kennedy viewed a manned moon landing as a necessary step in that direction.

If you ask your management team to define your company’s purpose and they say something like: “We exist to maximize shareholder wealth.”  Tell them that’s not good enough.  It does not inspire anyone and provides precious little guidance!

Instead, say authors Collins and Porras, ask these questions:  “If you woke up tomorrow morning with enough money in the bank to retire, what is it about this company that would make you want to continue working here?  What deeper sense of purpose would motivate you to continue to dedicate your precious creative energies to this company’s efforts?  As a helpful exercise they suggest that you start with a descriptive statement.  “We make X products.” or “We deliver X services,” and then ask, “Why is that important?”  Ask it five times.  After a few whys, you’ll find that you’re getting down to the fundamental purpose of your organization.  You will start to articulate the very soul of your organization.

Here’s a look at some core purpose statements for some successful companies.* Notice, none of them say: To maximize shareholder value!

3M:  To solve unsolved problems innovatively.
Fannie Mae: To strengthen the social fabric by continually democratizing home ownership.
Hewlett-Packard: To make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity.
Mary Kay Cosmetics: To give unlimited opportunity to women.
Merck: To preserve and improve human life.
Nike: To experience the emotion of competition, winning and crushing competitors.
Wal-Mart: To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people.

In summary, a purpose is

  • “Why we exist”
  • Should be succinct; 1 or 2 sentences at most
  • Should quickly and clearly convey how the organization fills basic human needs
  • Should be simple enough to pass the grandmother test:  if you can explain it to her so she can understand it, then maybe you’re on to something
  • Should tie products/services to a more fundamental need, rather than simply mentioning the products/services
  • Should be broad, inspirational, enduring, compelling and flexible enough to last 100 years
  • Only needs to be meaningful and inspirational to people inside the organization; it need not be exciting to all outsiders
  • Purpose is a motivating factor, not a differentiating factor

Putting it all together:

A compelling Vision and Mission can be translated into Goals which are realized through Strategies implemented as Initiatives to generate Results.


“In Pursuit of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal”, James C. Collins,

“Purpose, Mission, Vision”, James C. Collins and Jerry Porras, Stanford Business School Magazine, July 1989

“Building Your Company’s Vision,” by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1996

Built To Last by James Collins

The Mission Statement Book by Jeffrey Abrahams

The Mission Primer: Four Steps to an Effective Mission Statement by Richard O’Hallaron and David O’Hallaron

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Tips for Creating Vision Statements

A vision statement is a compelling description of how “a day in the life of the customer” is improved by enjoying the benefits of your products and services. It describes a future reality you want to drive your organization to. Vision statements can be stories, pictures, or imaginative videos.

Purpose, Vision, Mission, and Value Proposition statements

Purpose, Vision, Mission, and Value Proposition statements all serve different purposes and all help focus an organization.

This is like painting a picture with your words. It brings a company’s mission to life, with words that carry a clear and forceful image that motivates all employees.

Every manager has the capacity to be visionary.  There is nothing mystical or super-human about it.  A true visionary is someone who recognizes a need or opportunity and, regardless of conventional wisdom and skeptics, does something about.  Vision isn’t forecasting the future; it is creating the future by taking action in the present.

Visualization can be helpful but it is not required.  Words alone can suffice.  However, the ability to communicate a vivid, imaginative conception of what you want to see happen can be powerfully motivating.  Communicating in ways that instinctively appeal to people is an important part of turning your aim into reality.

My favorite technique is to use a vision statement to describe a day in the life of your target customer enjoying the benefits of your product or service.  Discussions around this exercise tend to clarify the value proposition.  And casting this story into the customers framework helps establish the magnitude of the value created if the alternatives are apparent.

Vision Statements don’t need to be short.  They are not tag lines.  They can be a story with details.  Keep it manageable.  Use what works for your situation.  A pictures can be a valuable way to communicate detail with few words.  The most elaborate (and expensive) vision statement I saw was a 10 minute video depicting a desired future in the health care industry — cool, but not necessary.  Most organizations can be very successful with a well written paragraph.

I concede that sometimes alternate definitions for vision statements can be helpful.  When I help all key managers in an organizations make One Page Business Plans for themselves or their teams, I sometimes use vision statements to describe how their team or department might change as a consequence of the strategy.  While this can be helpful, customer-centric vision statements are still of primary importance.  Without that fundamental value creation, there is no company.

There is no magic formula for creating such a vision, but authors Collins and Porras suggest that there are three conditions necessary for an overall aim to take root in an organization.

  1. An overall aim must be a reflection of the inner personal needs, values, and motivations of members of the organization.
  2. There must be an authentic personal commitment.
  3. Communication and reinforcement are vitally important.

In summary, a Vision is

  • “An image of our desired future”
  • A vivid description of what things will be like once we have attained the Mission
  • Compelling, tangible and immediate
  • Described in the present tense
  • A richly detailed and visual image

Putting it All Together:

A compelling Vision and Mission can be translated into Goals which are realized through Strategies implemented as Initiatives to generate Results.


“Purpose, Mission, Vision”, James C. Collins and Jerry Porras, July 1989 Stanford Business School Magazine.

“Organizational Vision and Visionary Organizations”, by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, California Management Review, Fall 1991.

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Strategic Initiatives: Your Initiatives Are Your Strategy

Focus on strategic initiatives, because the sum of your initiatives is your strategy.  This is a gem a learned from Victor Tang.

Strategy = Sum of Initiatives

Strategy is often confused with wishful thinking.  This is because strategy is behaviorally based.  Our strategy is what we do, not what we say we will do. It’s brilliant!

“Our strategy is to reduce expenses by 1%.”  Well, that’s not a strategy.  As it stands it is just wishful thinking.  However you could make it a strategy by implementing an initiative like “eliminating all first-class airline travel on domestic flights – everyone will now fly coach-class”.  Now that is a specific change of behavior and now part of your strategy.

I like it because clearly identifying key initiatives increases the probability of success.  These are then easy to communicate and guide the establishment of individual goals and objectives that bring the whole organization into alignment.

I also like it because it removes any mystery or magic about strategic planning when we understand that it is simply identifying and deploying new business initiatives to grow revenues.

Strategic initiatives involve the whole organization

Too often business plans get shelved because they are not grounded in reality. But when when the business plan is viewed as the collection of individual initiatives that employees are focused on, and specific new policies that are adopted, these strategic initiatives focus the whole organization on achieving common goals.

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Take the time to write short business plans

Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”  Doug Brown reminded everyone at Entrepreneur University this year, that your operational plan needs to be the short letter.  It takes a great deal of effort to write a good one—but it’s worth it. Write short business plans.

Doug is president of All Star Directories and I especially liked his comments because he successfully injected process maturity into a startup environment where they have grown tenfold in 4 years and can attribute their sustained rate of growth to three key planning elements: process, collaboration, and work product.

The foundation to their business planning is the strategic elements, including Purpose, Vision, Mission, Value Proposition, and Strategy.  No surprises here, and I have written much about these.  These are inspirational, help create alignment, and makes it clear how the team is expected to collaborate.

Doug defined collaboration as “aggressive behavior in a cooperative environment”.  I liked that.

Their strategic intents are articulated as initiatives (how strategy will be accomplished), each supported by a business case.  These become projects and individual action items.

Everyone can spend their time wisely when you generate such clarity.  You always know whether what you are working on is part of (1) the critical few, (2) the functional mandatory, or (3) the trivial many.

Bravo Doug and the whole ASD team!  My personal experience is that time spent providing clarity and purpose pays dividends because everyone wants to make a difference, everyone wants to do a good job, and everyone makes decisions all day long (consciously and unconsciously).  Whether you are going to the moon, rowing crew, or building a new company, those companies that succeed in planning and communicating that plan throughout the company outperform all others.

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Do You Need a Business Plan? Yes!

Existing companies need a business plan too.  I’ve also heard them called a strategic plan, annual plan or operational plan.  The name is not important.  A business plan is the roadmap between where you are now and your vision.  Developing this roadmap provides you with important benefits. emphasizes their importance, saying that with an annual strategic plan you can:

  • Guide your growth. Your business will grow or not depending on a lot of different factors, including overall economic trends, location, specific market needs, hard work and other elements. Businesses that plan do it to guide and influence their growth so they move proactively toward defined objectives rather than just reacting to business events.
  • Manage priorities. Strategy is focus. Allocate resources where they’ll do the most good. Work toward your strengths and away from your weaknesses. Develop the company by doing the most important things according to your long-term objectives.
  • Assign responsibilities. A plan gives you a place to develop organizational responsibilities.
  • Track progress. Think of a plan as a business-positioning device. With a plan you can track your progress toward goals, measure results and manage the business. Without a plan, how do you tell whether or not you’re moving in the right direction? What do you measure against?
  • Plan for cash. Profits aren’t cash, and cash isn’t intuitive. You spend cash–you don’t spend profits. However, businesses don’t plan well for cash, and they need to. That may not sound strategic, but it is. It’s also the core of an operations plan and an annual plan. Whatever else, you have to plan for cash.

In addition, a business plan provides a way to communicate your operations, goals, and business philosophy to personnel, suppliers and your other business contacts.

Finally, a plan helps you attract and retain talent.  When a prospect asks to understand your business, you can hand them a plan that gives them an entire overview.  Their reactions tell you something about how quickly and thoroughly they can think through your business’s key issues.  Moverover, the written record of your goals coupled with a track record of delivering against those goals sends a message loud and clear.  You understand your business and can deliver the results you promise.  Great employees will respond to that message–as will banks and investors the next time you need to raise money.

The plan improves your chance of success by identifying a strategy and all key assumptions.  Importantly, it identifies market trends and explicitly calls out the bets that the company is making about the future.  If more businesses did better planning, failures would be fewer.

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The True Cost of Delays

The true cost of delays—cost of delaying the introduction of a new product or business is much higher than most people imagine.  Here is an insight that is true for many situations.

A typical product lifecycle looks like an inverted bathtub with launch, growth, mature sales, and obsolescence phases.  It is easy to illustrate any kind of launch delay, but note that this shortens the mature sales by this same amount of time.

Cost of delay

For products, and many services, measure the cost of delay as lost months of mature sales.

The true cost of delays will be the loss of mature sales.

This highlights the necessity of speed-to-market and the true cost of launch delays. Specifically, a three month delay translates to losing three months of mature sales. This is because a company can control the introduction of a product or service, but rarely has control over its obsolescence. This is a great wake up call, and also a great way to show the value of hiring help — like GrowthConnection LLC.

This lifecycle is true for service companies as well.  The fad for low-carb diets (the Atkins craze) recently hurt profits at the US doughnut maker Krispy Kreme, triggering a slide in its share price.  Readers in the Seattle area know that Larry’s Market is an upscale grocery icon now filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection due to competitive pressures.  There is great value in getting to market without delays.

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Rick’s New Book Aims to Demystify Investing

Common Sense Investing: Ten Simple Rules to Finance Your Dreams is an easy-to-read book offering practical advice whether you are just starting out or planning your retirement.

Some of our dreams need money. Yet most of us are bombarded with an overload of financial information that sounds like confusing mumbo-jumbo. We are also victims of our human emotions that often cause bad investment decisions. The solution is to learn and apply ten simple rules. It’s not rocket science. They are: (1) Develop a workable plan, (2) Invest early and often, (3) Never bear too much or too little risk, (4) Diversify, (5) Never try to time the market, (6) Use index funds when possible, (7) Keep costs low, (8) Minimize taxes, (9) Keep it simple, and (10) Stay the course.

Common sense investing principles are something we all need to know, but are rarely taught. All too often we are persuaded by people who are attempting to sell products and services, or the media which is selling advertising. Wisdom gets drowned out by the noise. Warren Buffett, John C. Bogle, and most professional investors all very publicly recommend that the majority of investors should use low-cost mutual funds called index funds. But how do we go about doing that?

This book encourages us to put in writing a simple one-page investment plan for the financial goals associated with our dreams, and then to stick to that plan and get on with our lives—free from financial stress. It first teaches readers why these ten rules have prevailed, and then offers some practical tips for getting started, creating a plan that works, and dealing with the inevitable changes that life brings us.

We find ourselves learning exactly what we wanted to know, and wish we had learned a long time ago.

Find it on Amazon here:

Watch it as FREE bite-size videos here:

Read some strong endorsements by experts:

“Here are 10 simple, easy to follow, and proven investing rules. Investing an hour reading this short book will make you a better investor.”
– Burton G. Malkiel, Princeton University, Professor of Economics
Author: A Random Walk Down Wall Street

“If you follow his rules you are virtually guaranteed to outperform the majority of investors, both individuals and professionals alike.”
– Larry Swedroe, Principal, Buckingham Financial Services
Author of eleven books on investing

About the author

Rick Van Ness is a private investor and retired executive who provides investor education through online videos, short books, and workshops. Rick has an engineering degree from Cornell University and a MBA in Finance from New York University. Rick began his foray into writing by conducting workshops at local universities. To reach more people, he produced bite-sized explanatory videos—now available free at This paperback puts well-honed, long-proven wisdom in yet another format that is easy to access.

First release Paperback: (US $8.95)

ISBN-13: 978-1466204515

ISBN-10: 1466204516

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Set Bold Goals and Measure Progress

Reading the State of the Microcredit Summit Campaign Report 2006 reminds us of the importance of strategic planning by a leadership team for any field, or to any social movement.  This particular organization has helped transform millions of lives.  The components of the campaign include: 1) setting bold goals for microcredit, 2) measuring progress, and 3) removing barriers to achieving those goals.  Here’s an excerpt from that report:

Setting Bold Goals

“Be outrageous.  It’s the only place that isn’t crowded.”  — by Anonymous

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman described the power of setting audacious goals in a piece about Texas Instruments, a U.S. corporation that had embraced bold goals for making its operations more environmentally friendly.  Friedman quotes Shaunna Sowell, the company’s Vice President for Worldwide Facilities as saying, “I think you do first have to set an impossible goal.  Amazing things happen when people claim responsibility for creating the impossible.”

“They sure do.” Friedman replies, “In 1961, when President Kennedy called for putting a man on the moon, he didn’t know how – but his vision was so compelling that [it] drove the moon shot well after he died.”

The phrase BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1996 article entitled Building Your Company’s Vision. A BHAG (Bee-HAG) is a form of vision statement “…an audacious 10-to-30-year goal to progress towards an envisioned future.”

“A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.” (Collins and Porras, 1996).  Collins and Porras also used this concept in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

In the Microcredit Summit report, Harvard Professor Jim Kim, a major figure in international health and co-founder of Partners in Health with Dr. Paul Farmer, described how the late-Dr. Jong-wook Lee, past Director General of the World Health Organization, adopted the “3 by5” campaign in 2004, a campaign to provide three million people living with HIV/AIDS with life-prolonging antivetroviral treatment by the end of 2005.

Everyone counseled Dr. Lee against adopting such an audacious goal out of fear of failure.  But Dr. Lee committed himself and the World Health Organization anyway.  When Dr. Lee was asked, “What will you say if you don’t achieve the goal?” he would answer, “Blame me.”  Dr. Lee and the World Health Organization promoted the goal relentlessly and measured progress every six months.    Even though the goal wasn’t reached, their efforts resulted in a commitment to universal access to antiretroviral treatment by 2010 by leaders at the 2005 G-8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Bold goals are not for the faint of heart.  Expect many to respond that while it’s good to be ambitious, a particular goal might be unreachable or possibly unstrategic.  However, as Grameen Foundation President Alex Counts reminds us, “There were similar arguments made in 1996 that setting a goal of reaching 100 million of the world’s poorest families with microcredit was unrealistic and/or poor strategy, since progress was unlikely to be that fast and the tools to measure progress unreliable or too expensive to be practical across thousands of institutions.  Those fears have proved to be unfounded in the case of the 100 million goal–indeed, the goal catalyzed accelerated progress and innovation…”

Measuring Progress

A vision without a task is but a dream.  A task without a vision is drudgery.  A vision with a task is the hope of the world.

– from a church in Sussex England

Setting bold goals without making a credible effort to measure progress is, at best, a meaningless gesture.  But there are other advantages to goal setting and measurement, not the least of which is bringing obstacles into clear view.

Removing Barriers

Another key to a good strategy is to identify the Key Success Factors.  Look at each of these and determine which of these areas are being insufficiently addressed and require breakthrough thinking and action to bring your vision to fruition.  Then identify initiatives, set goals, and measure progress.  The important benefit of making metrics very visible is that it keeps everyone focused on the critical few things that need to be done well.  Human nature tends to pull us towards the trivial many things that we like doing, or that we are good at, or that give us a sense of accomplishment but are not essential to moving us closer to achieving our goals.

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Video library of entrepreneurs offers expert advice on innovation

Stanford Technology Ventures Program has a great resource open to all entrepreneurs:

Free expert counsel awaits online from such pioneers as the founders of PayPal, Google and Facebook. Anyone interested in turning their passions and interests into a financially rewarding venture can consult hundreds of industry executives without paying a dime for their time. Videos and podcasts sharing their wisdom are only clicks away …

The site includes topically arranged video clips, podcasts, book lists and links to direct the curious visitor to additional resources.

The brief video clips are introduced with succinct descriptions and captivating titles, such as "Five Biggest Mistakes That Entrepreneurs Make" or "Top 10 Things You Must Have to Start a Business." For example, Larry Page, co-founder of Google, in less than five minutes shares five tips for entrepreneurs, with the number one recommendation being "just don’t settle." Guy Kawasaki, founder of Garage Technology Ventures and former Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, shares how the key to a successful company is setting out to make a positive change in the world. He then gives three examples of ways to imbue your pursuits with meaning.

I selected a sample of their 800+ videos for you:

Title Author/Speaker Length Organization
The Best Money: Customer Money Heidi Roizen 1 min. 8 sec. Mobius
Make a Plan Randy Adams 2 min. 57 sec. AuctionDrop
Make Meaning in Your Company Guy Kawasaki 2 min. 37 sec. Garage
Five Biggest Mistakes That Entrepreneurs Make Jerry Kaplan 7 min. 56 sec. Winster
Tips For a Good Pitch Heidi Roizen 3 min. 39 sec. Mobius
The Biggest Successes are Often Bred from Failures Randy Komisar 8 min. 0 sec. Virtual CEO
The Importance of Vision Jeff Raikes 3 min. 46 sec. Microsoft
Role of Market Research Jeff Hawkins 3 min. 49 sec. Handspring
Entrepreneurship in Established Companies Carol Bartz 1 min. 42 sec. Autodesk
Innovation and Inertia Geoffrey Moore 1 min. 44 sec. MDV
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Zillow Dodges Google as a Deep Vertical

It hadn’t occurred to me that Zillow and Google were in the same business, but they are both in 100_0005b_1 the information business and make money off of advertising.  Here is a snapshot of Lloyd Frink, President & Co-Founder of, speaking this morning at Dean’s Breakfast Lecture Series at the University of Washington.

Lloyd is ultra-aware of Google and at least competes with them for energetic great talent.  Google doesn’t go very deep into vertical markets.  Lloyd points out that 130 people at Zillow wake up every morning focused very deeply on complex real estate transactions.

Zillow is a young company with a mission to empower consumers with real estate tools and information.  They are served 3.7 million consumers in August and still drawing off $57 million venture capital they raised.  Their business model is strictly an advertising play.  He commented that the companies that can win with this model are both the large sites with high volume and the small sites that can take advantage of Google’s Ad-Sense programs.  Lloyd showed a slide that shows how internet advertising spending is disproportionately low compared to the time consumers spend looking at that media:

                                    % Media Consumption             % Media Spend

TV                                           32                                                        43

Newspapers                               8                                                        30

Radio                                       20                                                        13

Internet                                   34                                                          6

Lloyd expects Internet spending to increase, but also individual advertisers. He anticipates a future where half there ad revenue might come from zipcode-specific advertisers.

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