How much time should you spend on your mission and vision statements?
Writing a mission and vision statement for your startup is like picking out a name for your unborn child. It can be tempting to overthink. In this video, I talk about some pitfalls in the process and how to avoid getting stuck.
These statements are more or less permanent, and changing them is like changing your kid’s name — tedious, confusing and generally unrecommended.
First, a few words about the difference between your mission and your vision.
The mission of your company should be clear, easy-to-understand and should simply state what you do. A clear and strong mission motivates your team to move in alignment towards a common goal. At my previous organization, charity: water, the mission was “to bring clean water to every person on the planet.”
Your vision on the other hand, is a broader, more aspirational statement. It should capture the ‘why’ behind your mission and allude to your ‘secret sauce’ or how you plan to execute your mission. Once again I’ll use charity: water as an example: our vision is to “reinvent charity for our generation.”
So the way we’re fulfilling our mission (to bring clean water to people) is by reinventing how people view charity…by inspiring the masses, leading with innovation, technology and brand.
There are many organizations who have the exact same mission as we do, but the way they go about fulfilling it - their vision — is different. Some do it by engaging in the political landscape and lobbying governments. Others do it through private wealth and getting a small amount of people to write big checks. There’s no right way, but you’ve got to pick yours.
Here are some examples of other organizations and their mission and vision statements:
Mission: To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
Vision: To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles.
Mission: To spread ideas.
Vision: We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.
Mission: 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.
Vision: To create a better everyday life for the many people.
If you’re in the process of creating your own mission and vision statements for your startup or nonprofit, here are a few words of advice:
1. Don’t drag it out and don’t decide by committee.
Since it’s an important decision, it can be scary to commit for some people. They end up either spinning their wheels for months instead of locking down these phrases, or even worse, involving 25 people in the process.
If you find yourself asking your entire staff, your mom, your attorney and your Starbucks barista for feedback, stop it. It’s not going to help you write a clear, compelling statement. Creating these by committee will likely throw you off track and make you second guess yourself too much.
2. Trust yourself. You already know this in your gut.
Starting a company is such a personal thing and the way you see your business existing in the world is very unique to you and your life experiences. Two people can start the exact same business but have dramatically different intentions. In turn, they will turn out two completely different companies just because of how they see the world. Classic example: Apple and Microsoft. So trust that you already know this because chances are, this idea has been brewing in your head for years and years.
3. The first thing that comes to mind is usually the right thing.
Since you’ve probably been ruminating on this idea for some time, you’ve already done a lot of thinking. The first few statements that come to mind tend to come out with the most clarity, simplicity and power. Second-guessing them and changing them based on every voice in your ear will usually make them worse.
4. Keep it simple and easy to understand.
Complexity is the enemy of execution. Keep these simple and they’ll be a lot easier to act on by your team and yourself when making daily decisions
5. It's not the most important thing.
As important as these statements are, what’s more important is how you execute on them every day through the products you put out into the world, the way you market and communicate and how you treat your customers.
So, to sum it up...
Trust your instincts, be careful about how many people you let into the process, remember that you probably already know the answers and don’t overthink it. Write them down and move on because the real work is in bringing your mission and vision to life through your brand every single day.