Finally, a Framework for your Vision, Purpose, and Mission.

Have you ever tried to discuss your company’s vision, purpose, and mission? How these differ from one another usually depends on whoever...
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March 20, 2020
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Have you ever tried to discuss your company’s vision, purpose, and mission? How these differ from one another usually depends on whoever is speaking. Getting a handful of executives, let alone an entire company, to come to consensus and stand behind what these should mean is nearly futile. No, it is futile, unless your team operates within a simple framework.

We’ve all attended at least one of these futile off-site meetings. At some point, every company holds long working sessions to gather input before usually taking one of two approaches. Either the CEO decides unilaterally define these on behalf of the company, or a smaller committee to dissect, interpret, and propose definitions that the company will accept in order to avoid further stress and confusion. Both approaches avoid consensus because, after all, how do you achieve consensus on something that you can’t even clearly define.

Graham Kelly’s HBR article from 2014 proposed one “typology of sorts” in an attempt to provide some clarity. He provides one way to think about these terms. And there are a host of other proposals out there that offer alternative perspectives.

“Aren’t there already a host of labels out there that describe organizational direction? Do we need yet another?”Graham Kelly

Even if you’re able to figure out a “typology” for vision, purpose, and mission after a 2-day working session and 6 weeks of follow-up committee meetings, you still have to tackle the distinction between principles and core values. That will take another 2-day working session, with no less effort than the original discussion on vision, purpose, and mission. It’s no wonder these tasks turn into dreaded (and dreadful), unproductive meetings that are given less priority than the renewal of the janitorial cleaning service contract.

Well, maybe this can help. Don’t even try to discuss any of these concepts without first thinking about the framework in which they exist. Of course, like every great framework, a 2×2 matrix will work just fine, as shown below.

This matrix considers whether a concept is directed to either a broad, long-term perspective or a more focused, short-term perspective. Separately each concept is categorized by whether it is driven by the company’s internal team discussions or, rather, by the context of the overall market (customers, competitors, and community).

  • Vision: a broad, long-term perspective of your team’s success. This transcends your customer’s interactions and defines why the team exists.
  • Values (often called Core Values): are the broad, behavioral ideals of your team. Hopefully these also align with the core values of your customers.
  • Purpose: the customer-centric reason that connects your vision to a specific customer segment. What is the benefit your customer will experience, and why will you customer appreciate this benefit?
  • Principles: a specific set of behavioral rules about how you will interact with customers and behave within your broader market.
  • Mission: a short- or intermediate-term game plan (set of actions) or goal (end result) for providing impact to specific customer/market segments.
  • Metrics: a set of measurable, outward metrics that quantify your customer impact.
  • KPIs: a set of measurable, internal metrics that quantify your team’s efforts on internal processes.

The green arrows provide one suggested path for defining each concept. Start with the broader vision and values, and proceed through the matrix until you have measurable metrics and KPIs. The blue arrows show how the KPIs drive alignment with the mission and metrics, which drive alignment with the purpose and principles, which should be consistent with the company’s vision and values. On a less academic note, this matrix is also set up to use the same first letter in each box: V, P, M, and K.

Whether you agree with these exact definitions or not isn’t really the point (but feel free to let me know). However you proceed, make sure you are working within a framework that all the participants can follow. Then it won’t matter which word you choose to describe each concept, because the team’s understanding will root deeper than the “typology” you choose to follow.

[This post was originally published September 6, 2017, on LinkedIn by Jeff Holman.]


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Jeff Holman
Jeff Holman draws from a broad background that spans law, engineering, and business. He is driven to deploy strategic business initiatives that create enterprise value and establish operational efficiencies.

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