Vision, Mission, Values: Overrated?

Let’s revisit a topic I covered only a bit in this series four years ago. CEOs are told their firms need a Vision, Mission and Values set of statements. I think they can be useful but they must be carefully crafted and done at the right time. If not carefully crafted or timed incorrectly, their articulation can be a huge waste of time and cause cynicism in your firm’s people.

Let’s discuss how and when to do this effectively. A caveat: there are hundreds of definitions of Vision, Mission and Values. What follows is one approach that has worked from me for clients but it is not the only way.

I have a bias for short, crisp and memorable statements. Many Mission statements are so long that no one can cite them or remember them. A quick story. Twenty years ago I made a copy of one client’s Mission statement and those of its top three competitors. I did not put the company names on them. Only one of the senior executives at their strategic planning retreat could recognize their own Mission statement. Thus, they can have almost no meaning for your customers or people. Let’s briefly discuss the reasoning behind my approach.

In my view, articulating a set of reinforcing Vision, Mission and Values statements is for the more stable established firm. Startups can use informal draft statements if they like, but their ventures will change frequently before scaling up. Not everyone agrees with me on this point. More on this below.

My bias for short, crisp and memorable statements is based on my view that your firm should articulate a clear and successful Strategy Framework first before articulating your statements. When Lou Gershner was hired to turn IBM around, he told security analysts he did not “have time for the vision thing”. He felt part of the Strategy Framework needed to be worked on first. I use a more comprehensive framework, and I know you have your own framework, but for our purposes here the answers to five key questions from the Lafley and Martin book Playing to Win will suffice to make my point:

1. What is the full potential of our business and what is our “winning aspiration”. Can we be the dominant player in our space with a large geographic footprint or is our destiny better described as being a smaller niche player that is a follower?

2. Where will we play?. Which geographies, industries, channels, buyers and customers will we engage?

3. How will we win? Low-cost provider or differentiator?

4. What capabilities must be in place? Think which skills and processes must be in place to implement the answers to the first three questions.

5. What management systems are required? Think which enabling infrastructure must be in place to enable the answers to the first four questions.

A Way to Approach Strategy Statements

With the Strategy Framework as the foundation, now let’s craft some short, crisp and memorable statements that carry meaning and will excite customers, your funders if you need them and your people:

binocularsVision: I define it as a statement that unites the “head, hands and heart” of your firm’s people based on the Winning Aspiration. Disney’s Vision statement is “We want every child to meet Mickey Mouse”. Notice the Vision statement must embody financial success in my view. A vision statement like “We desire to be a respected corporate citizen” is almost meaningless and has no tie to financial success. Disney’s statement does not say how old a child needs to be and implies all kinds of ways customers can experience its brand and make money. Theme parks, merchandise, movies, etc. are only the tip of the iceberg. Its geographic footprint is global. The statement has stretch and is memorable. The time frame for a Vision statement is the long term.

Night_Vision_TrainingMission:  A statement of what the firm will dominate (in the good sense of that word) within a given time frame. MacDonald’s Mission statement might  be “We will own low cost and price, convenient breakfast, lunch and dinner globally by 2027”. Its time frame is five to ten years and thus, will change much more often than the Vision. I like time bound statements as everyone call rally around them and focus. And then change the Mission statement as new opportunities arise.

NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-EarthriseValues: Many Values statements are feel-good quotes that have no relation to the Strategy Framework. They must tie directly to the Critical Success Factors required to win in your industry. Say speed, high quality, safety, branded products, innovation and integrity are KSFs. The Values statements come directly from your KSFs. As they change, so should your Values Statements. This point of view is opposed to some views that Values should remain constant in tandem with the Vision statement.

Long Vision, Mission and Values statements and especially those that have little relation to the Strategy Framework can work, but not well in my view.

This article is part of a series on what causes a firm’s value to increase.

Dr. William Bigler is the founder and CEO of Bill Bigler Associates. He is the former MBA Program Director at Louisiana State University at Shreveport and was the President of the Board of the Association for Strategic Planning in 2012 and served on the Board of Advisors for Nitro Security Inc. from 2003-2005. He has worked in the strategy departments of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Hay Group, Ernst & Young and the Thomas Group. He can be reached at or