The Toolkit – Part 1: Foundations (6) – from vision to mission

This post is part of the working draft of the DriverlessCrocodile Toolkit (read more here). I’d love comments, links to resources related to the theme, and original contributions.

From vision to mission

If a vision statement is a statement about ends (the world you’re working to make a reality), a mission statement is about means: what are the primary activities your organisation does to make the vision a reality.

So from a vision like: “We work for a future where all children across Indonesia have the opportunity to learn to read, and to love reading.” (Saya Suka Membaca)

We get a mission statement like:

“We do this by:

  • Creating an Indonesia-specific reading curriculum and resources that are effective teaching tools, engaging for learners, and easy to use for teachers;
  • Publishing high-quality, contextually relevant stories and graded reading books so that Indonesian children can enjoy the pleasure of reading as early as possible;
  • Equipping teachers to use these resources effectively through training and on-going mentoring, helping them to develop as skilled and inspiring teachers of reading who do their best for the children in their care;
  • Continually seeking to improve our program and increase our impact by field-testing our resources and responding to feedback, by trying out new ways to serve teachers, parents and children, and by building networks of good practice and advocacy.” (Saya Suka Membaca)

Spot the difference

With the disclaimer that many excellent companies use vision and mission statements in different ways, in my understanding the difference between the two is the distinction made above between ends (vision) and means (mission).

The vision is longer-term, and is the reason that the organisation exists. If the vision became a self-sustaining reality, the organisation should stop its work.

Mission serves the vision. It’s still fairly strategic and stable, but is also context-dependent and more liable to change in the medium to long term. For example, if it turned out that giving a free tablet-computer to every child in Indonesia was a more effective way to achieve the vision, then we should add that to our mission, and possibly abandon another part of the current mission.

2 Replies to “The Toolkit – Part 1: Foundations (6) – from vision to mission”

  1. This is helpful thanks. I have often viewed what you term ‘mission’ above as strategic priorities which are the HOW we get there. Mission is WHAT we do – it’s what marks our USP, our purpose. Vision is the WHY we do it – it’s a picture of a preferable future, it’s what happens when we fulfill the mission. It’s aspirational, it’s a little outrageous, it raises our sights. That’s why I love your vision above. I think for many people coming into a company that has a clear mission but a lack of vision, they are then having to create a vision which emanates from the mission. So in some cases would you agree it can be this way around?

  2. I’ve just come back to this and thought some more. On working backwards from mission to vision, I think that if you’re doing something important and have a great implicit vision already, then that’s fine – you’re articulating and sharpening a vision that was already there. I guess if you don’t have a good underlying purpose (one that that gives your mission or strategic priorities not only a coherence but a sense of being worth all the effort) then working backwards might help you find one, or realise its time to change direction.
    I’d see a slight danger in writing the vision to justify an existing mission – in that the vision might get tweaked so that it aligns with what you’re already doing, rather than picking the an important purpose and using that to shape what you actually do.

    On the subject of whether this is a good thing to term “mission” as opposed to “strategic priorities” – I’m open. This statement is definitely on the wordy side if someone asked “What’s your mission?”. What sort of things would you suggest for a mission statement in the example above?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...