Best Practices for Achieving Talent Success Maturity

Communicating Your Organization’s Mission and Vision

  • Who it’s for: 
    HR, managers, executives
  • What you’ll get: 
    An explanation of the difference between mission statements and vision statements; executable ideas on how to design yours
  • Why you need it: 
    As a cornerstone for how employees should be conducting themselves and to articulate the purpose of your business
  • When it applies in the talent success process: 

An organization’s mission and vision are its deepest statements of purpose, defining what it exists to accomplish and how it aims to do it. That’s why well-defined mission and vision statements play a role in your entire talent management process, from writing job descriptions to sourcing to onboarding and managing employees. This article explains how to craft and roll out your mission and vision statements — and why it’s important that you spend time focusing on them.

It’s About Building Culture

In his article “Culture: Why It’s the Hottest Topic in Business Today,” Deloitte principal Josh Bersin writes that more than half of the business leaders surveyed rated culture, engagement, and retention issues as “urgent” in 2015. Today’s leaders no longer dismiss culture and values statements as fluffy, feel-good sloganeering — they understand that culture is just as much of a competitive asset for the organization as any piece of real estate or intellectual property, and equally deserving of investment and development. Strong cultures aren’t a result of luck, or being in a “hot” industry — they are the product of deliberate policy and continuous feedback and reinforcement.

Mission and vision statements play a central role in this because they set goals for what you want your culture to accomplish and reinforce. While the real work of building a culture will be done by the countless small choices and decisions made by individual managers and employees, it is your mission and vision that will guide them — if you define and communicate them clearly.

The Fundamental Difference in Mission and Vision Statements

Mission statements and vision statements are both necessary for organizations. It is not an either/or equation. They play off of and complement one another. You need a vision to aspire to, and you need a mission that will get you there.

A Vision Statement

A vision statement presents the organization’s optimal goal and ultimate reason for existence. For example, Google’s vision statement is to “provide access to the world’s information in one click.” IKEA’s is to “create a better everyday life for many people.” If you’re comfortable with traditional business terms, vision statements are “top of the funnel.” They’re broader statements that represent a large overall goal or aspiration. They’re sometimes considered the legacy your company hopes to leave behind.

A Mission Statement

A mission statement is the overview of how the organization will reach its vision. Google’s mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” The idea of organizing the world’s information (contained in the mission statement) supports the idea of providing access to the world’s information (contained in the vision statement). IKEA offers “a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products.” This supports its vision of creating a better everyday life for many people.

“Mission” and “vision” can seem synonymous. But when you’re defining your organization, the words actually support each other, as opposed to meaning the same thing.

Writing Mission and Vision Statements

Often, a company’s executives or founders will craft the mission and vision statements. This is logical because these people usually have the most authority, or maybe they were the only employees at the very beginning of the business. Mission and vision statements can’t stop there, however.

Mission and vision statements need to evolve as the company evolves. Executives need to listen for feedback about whether the company’s core values as they’re described in the statements are actually being put to work day to day. For an example, we turn to what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg once called “the most important document ever to come out of Silicon Valley.”

The Netflix Culture Document

The Netflix Culture Document has been viewed more than 14 million times on SlideShare. The document was co-created by Netflix’s founder, Reed Hastings, and his initial chief talent officer, Patty McCord.

Before we get too far into explaining the Netflix culture document, it’s important to call out one major aspect. In many respects, the document got attention because of promised perks, like unlimited vacation. Netflix is a different type of company, and many organizations can’t promise elements like that to their employees. This is similar in some ways to companies like Google often being atop “best place to work” rankings, where a familiar refrain is, “Well, we don’t have the money Google does.”

Most do not. So rather than think about a Netflix culture document in terms of the perks offered, think along the lines of the culture and values it tries to define. That’s far more significant than any of the benefits outlined.

“[Reed and I] had been at another company together, and we didn’t like how that company was when we left,” McCord told Fast Company. “It was like every other company.”

McCord and Hastings wanted to do something different with their mission and vision statements, so they started by defining three categories:

  • What the company should value
  • What they themselves valued
  • What they expected of employees

There was no formal process to how it unfolded. “We took risks with the people stuff and we took risks with the business,” McCord has said. They knew they didn’t want to simply list core values as adjectives and nouns, like other companies had done.

As a result, Netflix’s mission and vision statements ended up well defined.

The vision of Netflix is:

  • Becoming the best global entertainment distribution service
  • Licensing entertainment content around the world
  • Creating markets that are accessible to filmmakers
  • Helping content creators around the world to find a global audience

Netflix refers to its brand promise as a “quest,” which equates to its mission statement: “We promise our customers stellar service, our suppliers a valuable partner, our investors the prospects of sustained profitable growth, and our employees the allure of huge impact.”

This clarity of definition ultimately benefited Netflix’s hiring process. McCord notes, “Only fully formed adults apply to jobs here.”

This is one prominent example of mission and vision statements benefiting the overall business and talent management life cycle. Other companies have seen success from creating well-defined cultures around their mission and vision. And in almost every case, feedback and communication are the next essential items.

Mission and Vision Don’t End at Rollout

Crafting your mission and vision statements and rolling them out to your employees is important. But that’s only about 67 percent of the work needed to make them effective. The other third is listening to — and gathering feedback from — people throughout the organization. The idea here is to make sure behaviors are consistent with the mission and vision you have defined.

This applies to your executives perhaps more than anyone. Sure, we’ve all seen examples of questionable executive behavior in business. But everyone in an organization needs to be held accountable to its vision and mission statements if your culture is going to truly mean anything to all employees. Mission and vision statements provide a framework for dialogue between managers, employees, and customers, and between senior management and the rest of the company. They provide a point of common ground all parties can gather on to make hard decisions and resolve conflicts. And they provide a lens through which to make decisions when no other guideposts are easily available.

How Various Companies Define Themselves

In addition to the brief examples earlier in this article, here are additional mission and vision statements from notable companies.

Company Vision Statements