Thursday, August 12, 2010



For the sake of technical differentiation, Vision statements are not the same as Mission statements. To give a quick glimpse of the essential difference, a Mission statement represents the reason for the existence of the organisation. It’s a feel-good statement that is ethical, motivating, and talks ‘generally’ about the current & future of the organisation. A Vision statement is necessarily about the future. Vision statements are aggressive and are mostly meant to be viewed as reasons for ruling the world in the future. That’s not the case in Mission statements.

Glueck & Jauch say, “The mission can be used to legitimise the organisation.” In other words, its profits – because the external environment is always questioning organisations that earn large, abnormal or supernormal profits. But then, there are organizations like Maruti Suzuki (India’s largest car manufacturer with a 47% market share as on June 30, 2010), along with companies like Wipro and Reliance, that either have no mission statements (umm, don’t confuse advertising slugs with mission statements please) or have hidden the statements in various jargons. The question then is, does the mission statement really matter?

In small companies that are privately held, the need for a publicised Mission statement is very low as the management can keep a tab on all stakeholders at close quarters themselves. But in large organisations, the answer is “Very much!” The Mission statement is unarguably one of the most important public relations exercises undertaken by any organisation to be accepted as ethical, society friendly, value based & for the benefit of stakeholders. In fact, it’s extremely necessary for any large company’s management to implement this amazingly vibrant PR hype focused on prime stakeholders and other entities (customers, societies etc). Large companies have more branches, more employees, more customers, more need for government interaction, more necessity to show Corporate Social Responsibility; in summary, more need for having a standard PR effort. With so many stakeholders, it becomes tougher for management to keep a direct tab on each and every relevant group. Managers should be very convinced that Mission is the strongest tool they have to maintain a wonderfully pervasive PR hype about the corporation. Even General Electric – a company which people said never had a mission statement – has had a ‘value statement’ for decades (see box on the next page). Jack Welch was no ignoramus.

Unfortunately, sometimes the Mission statements of various organizations end up being mirror images of each other rather than displaying the required inimitable uniqueness in culture. Let’s look at the Microsoft mission statement: ‘To enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential’. Look at what the mission statement (or the purpose statement) of GM was at one point of time: ‘The fundamental purpose of General Motors is to provide products and services of such quality that our customers will receive superior value, our employees and business partners will share in our success, and our stockholders will receive a sustained, superior return on their investment’ If one were to change the name of General Motors to IBM, the statement would still be extremely appropriate.

Are these companies to blame? Not at all! The folly of Mission statements is in their creation itself. In striving to be looked upon as society friendly, most of the Mission statements of organizations now contain standard words & similar phrases in order to not be off the beaten track. Given the true need for a Mission statement, the deliberation within any organisation while developing the Mission statement should ensure that the statement remains on the beaten track, lest the corporation be seen negatively by outsiders. Microsoft is an extremely intelligent firm that has realised long back the irrelevance of wasting time in developing nouveau Mission statements.

The mistake that modern business corporations are making is to not market and advertise the mission statement appropriately. In other words, you as a CEO have the prime responsibility to advertise the mission statement in a similar manner as you would when you advertise a product; albeit with reduced budgets of course. You might not be able to really “Save our tigers,” but the least you would have managed would be to ensure that companies like Aircel get a societal friendly image for the next few quarters.

Below, I list out the three most frequently asked questions on mission that I have been asked by CEOs through my past years:

Why cannot Vision statements be used as PR hype instead of the Mission statements?
Vision statements can be used as PR hype for internal stakeholders (most importantly management, shareholders…). But for external stakeholders (customers, government, society, regulators etc), dramatic Vision statements of the organisation might be interpreted as being unfriendly to society and aggressive beyond requirements.

Like Sub-Vision statements, are different Mission statements required at different levels of the organisation?
Technically speaking, the answer depends upon the organisation’s need. Organisation’s that have expanded globally or have many operationally diversified divisions have a bigger need for localised mission statements, like Mc- Donalds – which has different mission statements for its various operations.

How frequently should I modify my company’s Mission statement?
Given the objective of a Mission statement, and given the fact that the Mission statement should have been constructed to last a long-term, it should not be changed frequently. At least, not unless the founders of the Mission statement were really stingy with the words they used…

Even my employees don’t know my mission statement. Is that a problem?
Yours, not mine!