Writing mission and vision statements is supposed to force an organization to think hard about what it does and what it wants to accomplish for the future. After creating these statements and communicating them to others, the following benefits are supposed to occur:

• Higher levels of employee engagement as they see how their jobs fit into the company mission and vision;

• Greater focus on things that are critical to success;

• Individual goals and objectives linked to the mission and vision;

• Greater alignment of processes and plans;

• Linkage of key performance metrics with the vision and mission;

• Improved decision making by using the mission and vision for guidance.


What Really Happens?

Missionand vision statements get plastered around on posters, plaques and wallet cards after being unveiled in an “all-hands” meeting. Employee’s eyes glaze over as they ponder the meaning of trite, vague statements such as:

• World-class

• Value-driven

• Leading provider

• Customer satisfaction

• Employer of choice

and other hollow words and phrases that characterize most mission and vision statements.

What really happens to most of these statements is that they are forgotten and absolutely nothing changes in the organization. If the company is good at marketing before writing the mission and vision, they are still good at marketing. If their service was second-rate before, it is still second-rate. Putting a bunch of words together and pasting them on the wall does not change anything.

Remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school? Some of my younger readers may not recall this practice. Anyway, we said it every morning at the beginning of school for years, and most of us had no idea what it meant, why we had to say it, and it had zero impact on any of our behavior. Mission and vision statements are not really harmful, but they don’t do much good either.

One of my favorite management gurus is Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip. He defines a mission statement as a “long awkward sentence that demonstrates management’s inability to think clearly.” This definition fits most of the mission and vision statements I’ve seen.