Vision, Mission, Strategy and Business plans

Vision, Mission, Strategy and Business plans.

Vision, Mission and Strategy are three of the most misunderstood and misused terms in organisations today.

The result of this misunderstanding is that people, at best, pay lip service to them but change nothing. At worst, they generate oceans of paper, e-mails, newsletters and so on from the CEO and Board of Directors and confirm the staff in their opinion that all this is just the latest fad which will soon blow over - which it duly does.

So what do they mean?


Every organisation exists for a purpose, whether to make millions of widgets every year or to provide safe drinking water in the third world.

Being clear about the purpose, in a way that inspires and encourages the people in the organisation, means articulating that purpose, i.e. sharing the Vision.

A Vision is a 'just achievable' wish or dream. It is not measurable or detailed.

It describes why the organisation exists and usually remains constant for many years.

Some examples:

'A land of milk and honey' - Moses

'Never knowingly undersold' - John Lewis Partnership

Our widget manufacturer might say, 'Widgets for the world'


Having clarified the Vision, the next step is to decide what it means in terms of the big steps that must be taken.

The Mission is measurable. It describes what the organisation as a whole will achieve and the overall time-scale for achieving it.

The Mission does not deal with how the end is to be achieved nor who will be the key players in it's delivery.

So, if Moses had a Mission, it might have been:

'Everyone arrived in the promised land in ten years' time.'

And our widget manufacturer's mission might be:

'A factory in every continent by 2008.'


Having decided why the organisation exists and what the mission is, the next step is to decide how to achieve it.

The strategy, or strategic plan as it is sometimes called, is still a fairly high level look at the key milestones which need to be achieved if the mission is to be accomplished.

The Strategy explains how the organisation as a whole will do it.

The strategy sets out

          • The major steps that are planned
          • How each will be achieved
          • Key responsibilities
          • Time-scales and
          • Agreed measures of success.

So Moses might have created a strategy something like this:

· Plan of the overall route
· Description and location of each known desert oasis and food stop on or near the route
· The preferred direction between each of them, avoiding bandits, storms and so on
· Agreed overall time-scale for reaching each of the key stops
· Options for dealing with emergencies and
· Names and duties of lieutenants appointed to deal with orienteering, food, water, keeping the line together, health and so on.

While our widget manufacturer's strategy would contain

· Planned annual expansion investment
· overall turnover/profit or margin targets for the current business for each of the next 5 years
· A planned roll-out of factories, country by country, year by year
· Overall plan of the approach to and priorities for breaking into local markets, e.g.- advertising campaigns, lobbying local government, supplying major national widget users, etc.
· Key posts such as expansion co-ordinator etc.
· Measures of initial successful operation for each country.

And finally, to make it all happen, the business plan.

This is the detail. It includes

Local roles and responsibilities, annual targets for each division, team or individual, local recruitment and development plans and so on.

Business plans are usually very detailed for the year just about to begin, a bit less detailed for the following year and for year 3 they tend to contain little more than the strategic imperatives relating to each location.

Isn't it all just for show?

If the vision is dreamt up by the CEO, e-mailed to the rest of the organisation and hung in reception the answer is probably 'yes'.

To make a difference, to inspire everyone, the Vision must be shared
and owned by everyone in the organisation. Leaders need to involve everyone in the development of it.

Once a Vision is agreed it should be referred to continually. Leaders must use it as the context for everything that happens and describe the business of their parts of the organisation in terms of helping to achieve the vision.

Within that overall context, the Mission provides realistic measures which people can identify, work towards and use to celebrate success.

'Where there is no vision the people perish'

Proverbs chapter, 29 verse 18

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