Startup Guide: How to Write Vision and Mission Statements

Matter

To quote HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” startups aim to “make the world a better place,” whether “through Paxos algorithms for consensus protocols” or “through canonical data models to communicate between end points.”

But what does any of this mean? “Making the world a better place” is a signature gag on the show, but jokes aside, it hits on an important part of the founding process: writing a vision and mission statement.

Vision and mission statements guide everything from strategy, to procedural execution, to recruiting and hiring, to company culture as you scale. Both should stem from your company’s elevator pitch, strategic plan and company values. Write these first, then use vision and mission statements to recap these materials in plain English for distribution across your organization.

What are the differences between a vision statement and mission statement? What should each accomplish for your organization, and how long should they be? Here’s your crash course:

Writing a Vision Statement

A vision statement explains why a company exists at a high-level. It is aspirational, inspirational, motivational, future-looking and coincides with the founder’s vision for a better world. The very word, “vision” has everything to do with seeing; and vision statements have everything to do with how the founder sees the company evolving and impacting the world.

There’s plenty of research underscoring why your company needs a “why.” In what might be the most famous TED Talk of all time, “Start with Why,” Simon Sinek explains that successful companies like Apple communicate why they do what they do, before ever describing how or what.

Those familiar with Jim Stengel’s wildly-successful book, Grow, also know that companies that communicate from a position of purpose are four times more effective. Trustworthy, coming from a man who conducted a ten-year growth study of more than 50,000 brands, and found that the top 50 brands centered their businesses on the ideal of improving people’s lives.

Writing a Mission Statement

A mission statement explains how a company plans to accomplish its vision. It is operational, procedural, actionable, realistic, and coincides with the steps and hierarchy for success. As opposed to vision, “mission” has everything to do with doing; and mission statements have everything to do with what the company will do to make the world a better place.

Both mission and vision statements keep every level of the organization on track and should act as a “gut check” for new initiatives, products and features. “Silicon Valley” fans remember CEO Jack Barker’s “box”: a new product that pivoted the company from a service model, to a slot in a data center rack. The hardware product was a complete departure from founder, Richard’s vision and mission for the company, and a headache for his team.

Putting Pen to Paper

Vision is the why. Mission is the how. Now what are you waiting for?

A few parting pieces of advice as you put pen to paper. In working with clients on vision and mission statements, some of the most common questions we get are around length, rigidity of messaging and good examples:

  • On length – While many companies favor the one-liner approach, vision and mission statements can be as long as a couple paragraphs. Take Apple’s vision and mission, shared on the Panmore Institute.
  • On rigidity of messaging – A company’s vision and mission can and should evolve over time, as technologies and trends shape customer needs and preferences. The key is securing buy-in across the organization for any changes made, as vision and mission statements provide important templates for decision making.
  • On good examples – Google your favorite companies, both inside and outside of your space. Be inspired, but don’t copy. Your vision and mission should be “blue ocean”: uniquely yours to claim and conquer. Square, disruptor of all things payments, has one of my favorite vision statements: “Building the future of commerce.” Broad for growth and succinct for sharing.

Struggling with your vision and mission statements or how to use them to elevate your brand? Drop me a line.

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