Mission and Vision: HOW Mission Statements


This is the fourth in a series of posts exploring the difference between mission and vision, leading up to our webinar presentation in March—3 DANGEROUS TRENDS FACING ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-PROFITS.  .  

For my children, the searing memory of the Twin Towers of New York collapsing will define a part of their personal history. I remember that when Kennedy was shot, I was playing in the basement with my dolls. I didn’t really understand who Kennedy was.  At three years old, he was just another “movie star“ that I saw on TV.

By the time the civil rights movement was in full swing I was in middle school, learning about the vision Martin Luther King had and seeing news about the marches on TV.  I wished I was old enough to go on a march because I KNEW that what he was doing was right.  When he was assassinated, I remember the principal coming into the classroom and asking for prayers.

When he died I felt a great loss, because he had found a way to put into words something I believed in.  It was not a belief in a black America, it was a belief in a shared America.  His message of inspiration built a bridge of trust, a shared belief that fueled a movement that would change our nation.

The Synergy Between WHY and HOW

Regardless of WHAT we choose to do in our lives, our WHY—our driving purpose—never changes.  It is impressed on us at a young age and informs the choices we make in life.  But that inspiration only gets the process started; you need something more than inspiration to drive a movement.

 For every great leader, for every WHY-type, there is an inspired HOW-type or group of HOW types who take the intangible cause and build the framework that brings the WHY to life.   That infrastructure, those systems and processes, are what actually make any measureable change or success possible.

In order to inspire people and do great things, you need this special synergy between WHY and HOW. The marriage of a vision for the future and the talent to get it done are what makes an organization great.  As much as Martin Luther King was able to capture with his words how we felt, it was Ralph Abernathy and others who organized the marches and explained the practicalities of what needed to be done, what the next steps were.

The Relationship Between Mission and Vision

Nearly every company or organization starts the same way: with a compelling idea. Riveting ideas are fueled by passion. That passion can drive people to make sacrifices for the greater good. Inspired by the founder’s vision, many early employees demonstrate classic early-adopter behavior.

But for passion to survive, it needs structure.  A WHY without the HOWs, passion without structure, has a very high probability of failure.  It is a symbiotic relationship—passion needs structure to survive. But for the structure to grow, adapt and innovate, it needs passion.

This relationship illustrates the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement in an organization.  The vision is the public statement of the founder’s intent, WHY the company exists.  It is literally the vision of a future that does not yet exist.  The mission statement is a description of the route, the guiding principles—HOW the company intends to create that future.  When both of those things are stated succinctly, the WHY-type and the HOW-type are both clear about their roles and obligations in the partnership.  Both are able to work together with clarity of purpose and a plan to get there.

Our final blog in this series will be about mission, vision and brand congruence.  This will be a lead in to our webinar, THE 3 MOST DANGEROUS TRENDS FACING ASSOCIATIONS AND NON-PROFITS, tentatively scheduled for the week of February 18 – 21.  Stay tuned for more details =)

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