March 15, 2020 //

The Difference between Purpose, Vision and Mission – What Drives What?

Since I spent my last four blog articles talking about a “Creating a Purpose-Driven Team”, and my September 22, 2019 blog article addressed “When Your Vision Statement Lacks Vision”, I think it now makes sense to spend some time differentiating between the terms “Purpose”, “Mission”, and “Vision”, particularly since it’s very rare to find two organizations that agree on their usage, definition and application.

But in my opinion, it’s critical to understand how each discreet term (and the “order” in which they are conceived) is relevant to each other…and moreover to your organization’s ultimate impact.

My personal approach to keeping the terms straight in my mind is to substitute the words “Why”, “What”, and “How”, for “Purpose”, “Vision”, and “Mission” (respectively), as shown below (listed below in chronological order of “conception”):

    1. PURPOSE = WHY. Why are you here?  It is why your organization began its journey, and it is guided by your organization’s deeply-held (core) values and beliefs.
    2. VISION = WHAT. What do you hope to be? It is your final destination.
    3. MISSION = HOW. How do you plan to get to your vision?  It is the unique path you choose to follow to get to your final destination.

So let’s talk about the associated Statements, and what these Statements are designed to DO:

THE PURPOSE STATEMENT GUIDES YOU. Your Purpose Statement articulates WHY you do what you do, WHY your organization exists, and WHY you serve a higher purpose.  For example, Southwest Airline’s Purpose Statement is “We connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel”.

THE VISION STATEMENT INSPIRES YOU.  Your Vision Statement articulates WHAT you aspire to be and WHAT are the results and goals you want to reach in the future.   For example, Southwest Airline’s Vision Statement is “To become the World’s Most Loved, Most Efficient, and Most Profitable Airline”.

THE MISSION STATEMENT FOCUSES YOU. Your Mission Statement articulates HOW you fulfill your purpose and vision.  It is designed to eliminate distractions, and to unlock the strategy that will deliver the best results.  For example, Southwest Airline’s Mission Statement is “Dedication to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit”.

While the distinction between the three terms is relatively subtle, it is nonetheless critical, because each term has a distinct (and indispensable) purpose.  Furthermore, the biggest reason to carefully craft all three, is the collaborative journey it should require organizations to get to each statement.  It is the decisions around the language itself that can/should bond, align and inspire leaders, staff and customers  alike.

In the end….all 3 of these pieces drive your organization to the Holy Grail:  IMPACT.

So here’s my challenge for you:  Think about your company’s Purpose, Vision and Mission Statements.  With that in mind (or without it if you prefer) get with your team in order to write a Purpose, Vision and Mission Statement for your organization (team, department, division, etc.), and share those statements below.  More importantly, include whether you found the process of writing these statements a valuable process.  We’d love to hear what you come up with!

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