For many, the ideas behind a company vision and a company mission are confusing or misunderstood. Moreover, I engage in debates regularly about whether these concepts are the same (they are not) or if companies need them at all (they do).

To deal with this, a few years ago I developed an analogy to describe vision and mission in order to better explain the difference and emphasize the importance of each.

Road Trip

Imagine you are the owner of a large recreational vehicle (RV) that can hold up to 10 people comfortably. You decide that you want to drive your RV from Seattle, Washington to Key West, Florida, so you invite a few friends who might like to tag along. You tell your friends that if they decide to make the journey, they should know a few things before you leave.

First, this is an adult-only trip -- no children allowed. The reason is simple -- children. Second, you will not drive more than five hours per day, so the trip will require a minimum of 10 days to complete. And lastly, along the way, you plan on seeing Mt. Rushmore, visiting Nashville for BBQ sampling, and watching a baseball game at Turner Field in Atlanta.

Vision

The vision in this example tells your traveling companions where you are going. This trip is going to take you from Seattle, Washington to Key West, Florida. If anyone wants to go on that journey and arrive at that destination, they should consider getting on board.

Mission

The mission sets the priorities for the trip and details the guidelines that everyone must follow. This is an adult trip with no kids, so adult activities should be expected. You are not going to rush to the destination, so if your passengers need to arrive sooner, then this is not their best option. And, the RV will follow a very specific route, so if anyone has a problem with Tennessee BBQ or the Atlanta Braves, they should reconsider.

Together, the vision and mission of this RV road trip help to motivate your friends and get them excited while setting important expectations for the long journey. 

Of course, this is a very simplified analogy, but businesses are not that different than a road trip. When you lead a business, you are taking your stakeholders on a journey, and you need to have a clear understanding of where your company is going -- its desired destination.

This is your company vision, and it needs to be formulated in a way that motivates people to wake up every day excited about the long journey with you.

Your company mission dictates the priorities for your company and is meant to set clear expectations for all stakeholders on the journey. In a business, the mission is often the ethical or social guidelines and values that are meant to help guide decision making as you move toward your destination.

Companies do not always need both a vision and a mission, but they do need a plan for their journey. Ultimately, the individuals leading the organization need to be comfortable with whichever they incorporate.

Regardless, whether your plan includes a roadmap, GPS, or compass, or stops at every BBQ restaurant along the way, at the very least, the people on your RV need to know where you are taking them and what they can expect along the way.

Do you have a company vision or mission or both? Share your thoughts about them with others in the comments below.

Published on: Jun 28, 2018