Vision, mission, strategy and core values are, in my opinion, the four foundational elements that should make up your core ideology. They are the governing forces that inform your strategic direction and tactical implementation.
Differences between vision, mission, strategy, and core values
However, while all four are important, they’re very different—and they’re often confused. Here’s how to tell them apart:
A vision is a clear, inspiring, practical, attractive picture of your organization’s future. It’s not a vision statement—instead, as I discuss in my book, it’s a “vision script,” a three- to five-page document that talks about the future of your business three to five years from now. Written in the present tense, it should cover the future of your team, the future of your product, the future of your marketing and the future of your impact. That’s vision, and it answers the question, “Where? Where are we going as an organization?”
Mission answers the question, “Why? Why do we do what we do?” Alongside that, there are four subquestions:
- First of all, “Who are we?” In other words, what are you in business to do? Personally, I’m in a leadership development company, and so that’s my answer to that first subquestion.
- The second question is, “Who are your customers and what problem do they have?” I serve overwhelmed but successful business owners—a distinct audience with a distinct psychographic problem.
- Thirdly, “What’s your unique solution?” I provide the focus—and the promised transformation—that those business owners need to win at work and succeed at life.
- The fourth and final question is your mission, which answers the question, “Why?”
Strategy is how you’re going to get from here to the vision that you created in that first document. Strategies can change as often as the conditions on the ground change, because you’re trying to get to that destination. Of course, while your goal is unlikely to change, how you get there very well may. Once the coronavirus hit, for example, our strategy had to change. We’re still committed to the vision, but how we get there is going to be very different.
Core values are really about who you are and, more importantly, who you’re becoming on the journey to get to your vision. What kind of conduct do you expect? What kind of behavior do you tolerate? Who are you going to be in the process of fulfilling that vision?
Those are the differences between vision, mission, strategy and core values—all of them different, but all of them essential.
This article was published in December 2020 and has been updated. Photo by Jeremy Cowart