Mission and Vision
SHANNON A. BOWEN
University of South Carolina, USA
Vision statements and mission statements are both based on the core ethical values of an
organization and are essential to its success because they give it direction. Vision state-
ments drive the long-term goals that determine where the organization would eventu-
ally like to be in the competitive landscape. Mission statements are more concrete and
specic to an organization’s competitive advantage; they are used to prioritize activities.
Mission statement construction and the numerous benets of a well-conceived mission
are delineated below.
e concepts of mission and vision are linked and symbiotic, yet they refer to dier-
ent constructs. Another way to conceptualize this dierence is that a vision statement
species where an organization is going and a mission statement gives an organization
direction on how to get there. A best practice is for organizations to create both a vision
statement and a mission statement, and to incorporate both into decision making. Cor-
porate or management philosophy is comprised of vision, mission, and values in com-
bination with leadership and the many constructs that create organizational culture.
Vision is future-oriented and describes where an organization would like to be posi-
tioned in the market in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years’ time. It is a goal state embodying a
long-term ambition of where an organization would like to be in the future relative to
its competitors. Organizational vision is normally expressed through a simple one-line
vision statement. ese types of statement oer a strategic attainment goal that may be
somewhat ideal or normative relative to real-world constraints, but oers inspiration to
the organization to overcome barriers in a concerted eort. In that respect, vision state-
ments are key drivers of organizational innovation, the commitment and motivation of
employees, eectiveness, and success in the competitive arena.
What is the origin of organizational vision? Although vision statements may originate
with key founders or visionary leaders, many scholars view vision as originating from
organizational culture. Noting the connection to ethical values, the authors Larwood,
Falke, Kriger, and Miesing (1995, p. 741) regard vision as a pattern of organizational
values that underlies a unique visionary blueprint for an organization’s future. e con-
nection of vision to ethics is indeed a prominent and strong one because the values of the
organization are the foundation of its drive and vision, explaining what that drive seeks
e International Encyclopediaof Strategic Communication. Robert L. Heath and Winni Johansen (Editors-in-Chief),
Jesper Falkheimer, Kirk Hallahan, Juliana J. C. Raupp, and Benita Steyn (Associate Editors).
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2018 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
2MISSION AND VISION
to attain. Ethical values of an organization may, for example, include autonomy, inno-
vation, value, eciency, or market leadership. Clearly these core ethical values underlie
and support a vision statement because many of them are expressed in it as goals.
e core ethical values of an organization are essential to determining how it sees
itself in the competitive marketplace, and its strategic strengths become the very build-
ing blocks of a vision statement. According to Bowen (2016), values describe the core
beliefs that guide every decision and oer a priority order for consideration. e orga-
nization’s core ethical values support both its vision and mission. In addition, many
ethical values are abstract constructs by nature so they pair well with the more abstract
and future-oriented qualities of a vision statement.
If a vision statement is not expressed by a founder or leader, how does it arise, and
who implements it? e executive level or senior management normally takes the
lead in determining or rening organizational vision because of its close connection
to strategy. Senior management is wise to involve employee publics/stakeholders at
all levels of the organization when designing a vision statement. Qualitative research,
discussion forums, employee surveys, and anonymous feedback forms can oer
valuable insight into what people at all levels of the organization see as its desired
visionary goal. Employees may see the potential of an organization dierently than
management does, and these stakeholders can provide valuable insights into potential
long-term progress. Involving employees is so important that Talbot (2000, p. 12) called
it a golden rule—everyone aected by a decision should be involved in the making of it,
whenever possible and practical. Additionally, to include employees at all levels in the
discussions surrounding the creation of a vision statement, or when revisiting a current
vision statement, can create a level of employee commitment, “buy-in” in layman’s
terms, that enhances the future eectiveness of the organization in numerous ways.
e literature of organizational communication is rich with discussions of the inter-
connectedness of vision, leadership, and organizational culture; many of those studies
also oer evidence of heightened success in real-world practice. Oswald, Mossholder,
and Harris (1994), for example, found that salience of vision among managers oered
higher levels of strategic involvement, resulting in heightened organizational commit-
ment and job satisfaction. Vision salience was operationalized by measuring the clar-
ity,sharedness,andappropriateness of organizational vision. ose constructs can be
thought of as the means of connection between internal publics/employees and the
organization’s vision: ey are how the vision becomes real.
Strategy and ongoing commitment also play central roles in determining the vision
of an organization. Cornelissen (2004) explained that a vision or strategic intent is the
desired future state of the organization. “It is an aspirational view of the general direc-
tion in which the organization wants to go, as formulated by senior management, and
requires the energies and commitment of members of the organization” (p. 24). Once
a vision statement is codied, it is essential for internal communication eorts to high-
light the vision of the organization among all publics/stakeholders within it. Although
these eorts tend to be sporadic, communicating about organizational vision should
be ongoing. Not only should the vision statement be used in onboarding new employ-
ees or annual training, it should be a routine part of team discussions and strategic
MISSION AND VISION 3
management decision making. e vision statement of an organization should be insti-
tutionalized throughout its organizational culture so that it is alive, active, known, and
frequently referred to, as opposed to being a forgotten part of a dusty policy manual.
Vision statements should drive organizational culture.
Vision can be determined by asking the question What is it that the organization is
pursuing? Narrowing down the core competencies and core values of the organization
can lend insight into its competitive advantage in the marketplace. What is important is
how that competitive advantage can be leveraged to create ideal or best-case-scenario
By their nature, vision statements are aspirational and idealistic—they are sometimes
even radical, calling for the change or transformation of entire industries. Because they
are long-term they do not need frequent measurement and evaluation, but may be
revised every ve years or so for t, as markets, technologies, regulations, and compe-
tition change. However, their abstract nature makes vision statements relatively stable
and unchanging beacons that allow organizations and all of the publics/stakeholders
within them to have a common aim. Vision statements oer a driving force for the
organization as well as a reason for motivation, commitment, and a cohesive sense of
e inclusion of a vision statement in management’s strategic decision making is
essential. e question Wheredowewanttobein5or10years’time?canoenlend
clarity to the question of determining priorities and organizing limited resources.
Strategic eciencies and competitive advantage can therefore be doubled-down upon
and enhanced. e Microso founder Bill Gates had a radical vision statement, namely
to put a computer on every desk in America (Borden, 1997, p. 8). e power of that vision
is now evident. e competitive advantage of an organization can be honed by knowing
exactly where it wants to go: An astute vision statement drives competitive advantage.
Mission is the pursuit of a goal that is unique to an organization’s competitive
advantage—its specic strengths and oerings relative to competitors—while again
emphasizing its values. e best mission statements are general enough to drive the
strategic pursuit of numerous organizational goals and a plethora of organizational
objectives, yet are specic enough to focus and prioritize organizational activities
and resources. Unlike vision statements, mission statements are normally several
sentences long. Mission statements intend to answer the question Why do we exist?
Mission statements help management to organize the hierarchy of priorities that an
organization must face in daily and long-term operations.
Cornelissen (2004) used a stakeholder-values perspective to explain mission: “A mis-
sion is a general expression of the overriding purpose of the organization, which, ideally,
is in line with the values and expectations of major stakeholders and concerned with
the scope and boundaries of the organization” (p. 24). A mission is oen referred to
withthesimplequestionWhat business are we in? Statements of core values and more
specic goals and objectives oen follow mission statements. e core ethical values of
4MISSION AND VISION
the organization shape not only its vision but also its mission: what it seeks to accom-
plish, what is desired or rewarded in the organization, and where the eorts of each
organizational member should be directed.
Focusing on the core competitive advantage of a business organization is key to cre-
ating a good mission statement. What is it that makes the organization unique? How is
it dierent from competitors? What are the strengths that it brings to the marketplace?
What is the distinguishing value of its product or service? In perhaps the most canonical
publication on mission statements, Pearce (1982, p. 15) wrote that the company mission
organization from other organizations/rms of its type and identies the scope of its
operations in product and market terms. Abratt (1989, p. 70) saw mission as a distilled
form of corporate philosophy that shapes strategic management.
As with vision statements, mission statements must be based on the ethical values of
the organization. ose values normally include concepts such as honesty but become
more specic in a mission statement. For example, do the organization’s ethical val-
ues drive behavior toward innovation or cost eciency, prestige market leadership or
low-cost volume, high-value consistency or individual tailoring, or ecacy versus lux-
ury? Further, which stakeholders should the organization prioritize? In its individual
industry and market position, should its prior commitment be to consumer publics,
business stakeholders, employees, or nancial stakeholders? A well-organized mission
statement can clarify the organization’s competitive advantage, management strategy
based on core values, strategic stakeholders, and priorities. In a management core of
competing perspectives and limited resources, a well-dened mission statement itself
can add to competitive advantage.
To illustrate this, imagine the dierent management priorities that would organize
resources and decision making between these two divergent mission statements in agri-
We work diligently to be the world’s low-cost leader in reliable, productive, and disease-resistant
crops. (Organization A)
We engage in the highest level of innovative research and outside-the-box thinking for vast advance-
In this illustration, Organization A would prioritize cost eciency, routinization,
building upon the patents of others, and creating a reliable product with much con-
sumer value built in. It would likely be a mid-to-late market entrant working on crops
that are in steady demand. Conversely, Organization B would spend a great deal more
time and resources on the laboratory science needed to alter specic crops and would
be considered a market pioneer with a unique and more expensive product. Addi-
tionally, the core ethical values built into Organization A (value, reliability, output)
stand in contrast with the core ethical values of Organization B (experimentation, inno-
vation, leadership). Incentive structures in each organization would be dierent and
employees would experience greater rewards by working in concert with organizational
values (Bowen, 2015). is example illustrates how even a simple mission statement can
change the overall priorities and operations of an organization.
MISSION AND VISION 5
Some mission statements are parsimonious, such as this example from Bose Corpo-
ration (n.d.): We have a simple mission: think of better solutions, create better products,
help people enjoy the things they love. Such simple mission statements are oen followed
by an announcement of core values and guiding principles, such as, Maybe the most
important principle we live by is that innovation is not a destination, but a journey requir-
ing new ideas from new players. Other mission statements are more complex, composed
of several bullet points or a few short paragraphs. e current trend in industry is for
more detail in mission statements.
ere are nine detailed categories that mission statements oen discuss, specifying
1. target markets;
2. principal products/services;
3. geographic domain;
4. technological advantage;
5. economic goals;
9. employee concern.
Not every mission statement contains all of these elements, as many are dependent
upon industry, size of the organization, consumer or business orientation, strategic
publics/stakeholders, competitive market position, and so forth. However, these
nine categories oer a relatively complete and exible framework that guides mis-
sion statement construction. A closer look at mission statement construction is
Construction of a mission statement
e key to a successful mission statement is its ability to focus an organization’s
priorities, decision making, and resources on the core components that drive its
competitive advantage. A mission statement should help to hone the operations
of an organization by minimizing or eliminating extraneous activities, allowing
focus and teamwork, and driving organizational priorities and activities. ere are
several factors that go into the construction of a mission statement, each discussed
•research (internal stakeholders; external stakeholders and publics);
•analysis of core competencies in relation to competitive environment;
•environmental factors (regulatory, industry, technological, etc.);
•leadership and management style;
•core ethical values.
6MISSION AND VISION
It is likely that an organization’s founder or key leaders will have articulated their idea
of a vision or mission statement to drive the organization. Oen, that idea is enough of
a starting point but, as with vision, internal stakeholders should be heard and have a
voice and real input in creating the mission.
e vision statement of the organization, if one exists formally or informally, is a won-
derful starting point for articulating a more specically denedorganizational mission.
e vision statement drives where the organization is going and what values it will use
to get there, so the mission statement can build upon that foundation by articulating
core competencies. ose core competencies or focus areas comprise the competitive
advantage of the organization and give it the ability to prioritize resources that further
it toward that goal.
Research should be used to help determine, construct, or rene the mission state-
ment. Research inside the organization with internal stakeholders should be conducted,
employingbothqualitativeandquantitativeformats.Qualitative research can generate
in-depth understanding and answer “why” questions. It is important in the formative
stages of assessing how internal stakeholders view both strengths and weaknesses of
the organization. Quantitative research canbeusedtoascertaintheextentofagreement
with concepts across the entire organization and among employees at all levels. It is
important to include an element of the research that is anonymous to generate candid
input and feedback. Several rounds of data collection may be needed to rene poten-
tial mission statements and the ndings of quantitative and qualitative research. It is
unlikely that there will be complete levels of acceptance and agreement among every
stakeholder group within the organization, but ongoing research can incorporate many
of the interests of most stakeholders.
External publics and stakeholders may also be included in the research to under-
stand how the organization is viewed from the outside by consumers, investors, etc.
But more work needs to be done before a comprehensive mission statement can be
adopted. A good mission statement is not simply a public-opinion-created document.
Senior management must analytically scrutinize the competitive environment in which
the organization operates, seeking to identify core competencies and growth opportuni-
ties based upon the organization’s unique competitive advantage. Sometimes elements
of the organization will be divested or sold in order to focus on a narrow competi-
tive advantage. Other times, expansion becomes a part of the organization’s mission.
Finance, technology, competitive market growth potential, and even the regulatory and
judicial environment warrant examination for their potential impact on the organi-
zation’s mission. is portion of the analysis becomes even more complex when the
organization is multinational or global.
Elements of leadership style and the organization’s unique management philoso-
phy should also be considered in developing the organization’s individual mission.
How hierarchical or authoritarian is the organization versus how decentralized or
participative? Oen the industry of a company lends itself more to one style than
another—manufacturing rms, for instance, are oen authoritarian and routinized
with a high division of labor. What needs to be worked out, however, is the ideal for
the industry that a specic organization belongs to when considered in concert with
its competitive advantage and vision statement.
MISSION AND VISION 7
Core ethical values are the foundation of everything that the organization does,
including its vision, mission, and operations. Core values allow those working within
the organization to agree upon what is considered good, worthy, or meritorious. ey
allow common goals that oer guidelines for both individual and group behavior.
ose values should be incorporated as the backbone of the mission statement to
the organization in times of uncertainty or to help resolve dilemmas.
A concise, comprehensive, specic, articulate, and strategic mission statement
emerges as the result of numerous considerations, analyses, and types of research. A
well-conceptualized mission statement oers numerous benets that can help drive
the organization toward success.
Multiple beneﬁts of mission statements
Mission statements are practical investments in the future of an organization for a
number of reasons. As discussed above, they allow the prioritization of operations and
resources. Mission statements also encourage commitment and motivation among
internal publics and employees, and help to foster a collaborative, team-driven envi-
ronment toward common goals. A voluminous amount of research has been published
that shows the relationship between committed employees and overall organizational
eectiveness. A strong organizational culture, organized by a mission statement known
to all and driven by core ethical values, creates more eective employees and larger
eciencies of scale and cost reduction for the organization. A motivated workforce can
oer a formidable competitive advantage, and the mission statement is key to driving
that team eort toward common goals. Scores of researchers (e.g., Oswald et al., 1994)
have argued that an articulate and well-dened vision is essential during times of
organizational change, transition, or environmental turbulence.
Arguably an even greater value of mission statements is that they encourage the
long-term formation of relationships with stakeholders/publics by allowing the orga-
nization to be known. A visible and oen-referred-to mission statement allows both
internal stakeholders and external publics to understand the priorities and rationale
for management decisions.
Mission statements also have relationship outcomes because they underscore the
credibility of the organization. An astute mission statement encourages consistency
among management and in organizational behavior, minimizing distractions and for-
ays into potentially problematic decisions. When a mission statement is used to orga-
nize and prioritize operations, a consistent focus on mission emerges. at consistency
allows management to be known by external publics and internal stakeholders alike.
Over time, consistency allows the organization to meet the expectations of publics/
stakeholders. Ethical organizational behavior has been conceived as a precursor to
the formation of eective long-term relationships with stakeholders/publics (Bowen,
Hung-Baesecke, & Chen, 2016). Given that the organization’s behavior is ethical
or values-driven, meeting the expectations of publics/stakeholders allows trust to
emerge as a valuable component of long-term relationships. Organization–public
relationships are built on trust, commitment, satisfaction, and shared control. Trust
8MISSION AND VISION
is arguably the most important component of relationships because it can insulate an
organization from negative events (such as crises, natural disasters, product failures),
allowing it valuable time to research, explain, adapt, and recover while maintaining
ongoing, trusting relationships with stakeholders. Mission statements are, therefore, an
invaluable component of strategic management and a vital aid in building relationships
between the organization and its stakeholders/publics.
Strategic use of vision and mission
Although they are oen confused, the distinction is clear: A vision statement addresses
the question Wheredowewanttogo?whereas a mission statement addresses the ques-
tion Why do we exist?
Although vision statements can be seen as optional they are exceptionally helpful
in organizing the future goal state or visionary aspiration of an organization. Using a
vision statement strategically can help the organization in long-term planning, scenario
building, issue identication and analysis, resolving ethical dilemmas, and helping to
determine the best allocation of limited resources. Vision statements allow an organi-
zation to operate consistently toward a future it has dened as successful and worthy of
Mission statements are not optional. It is exigent that every organization, regardless of
a strategic mission statement. At that point, the mission statement must be used in dis-
cussion of managerial dilemmas, routine decision-making, and problem-solving. For
example, a management team evaluating options to address a problem could pose the
question Whichoftheseoptionsbestsupportsourmission?To help create competitive
advantage and build teamwork and long-term organization–public relationships, the
mission statement must become an essential ber that is woven throughout the organi-
zation’s culture and pervades its operations.
SEE ALSO: Business Strategy; Core Values; Dominant Coalition; Leadership Commu-
nication; Strategic Communication, Ethics of
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Shannon A. Bowen, PhD, researches the ethics of strategic communication man-
agement and the dominant coalition. Her research in ethics has won numerous
awards, top papers at each major communication discipline conference, and the JJ&W
Behavioral Science Research Prize. She is Professor at the University of South Carolina
and formerly with the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. She is a regular
columnist for trade press PRWeek and a journal coeditor. She has published over 100
journal articles, reports, encyclopedia entries, book chapters, and books including An
Overview of the Public Relations Function and Excellence in Internal Communication