What Is the Difference Between Mission and Vision?

Organizations need both a mission and a vision statement in order to be effective, but how do they differ? This guide delves into the distinction and provides real-world examples.

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In Stephen Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," the second habit is "Begin with the end in mind,” which means to focus on what long-term goals you are trying to achieve before even attempting to accomplish anything.

To illustrate the importance of focusing on the "end" before you do anything else, he describes a scenario of workers slashing through the undergrowth in the jungle and making tremendous progress until someone climbs to the top of the tallest tree, surveys everything, and yells, "Wrong jungle!"

The point is that it makes no difference how much you're getting done as an organization if you don't know where you are or where you're going. And that's where mission and vision statements come in — to put you on a track toward meaningful success.

Mission and vision statements are not about sales tactics or budgets or even your employees. They’re about why your organization exists and where it’s going. Here’s everything you need to know about mission and vision statements, as well as some real-world examples to help you come up with your own.


What is a mission statement?

A mission statement is a written description of an organization’s purpose for existing. It is a document that lays out the goals and current focus of the firm and expresses what the company values are and what the organization seeks to accomplish on a daily basis.

This statement informs all of the actions of the organization — if an activity doesn’t fit in with that mission statement, it should be discarded because it doesn’t advance the organization toward its goals.


What is a vision statement?

A vision statement articulates the future manifestation of the company and lays out what it seeks to become. It is more forward-looking and focused on a future that has not yet arrived but will at some point. A vision statement may lead to modifications of the mission statement based on how the company’s leadership envisions the future.


Mission vs. vision: What's the difference?

A mission statement describes the present activity of the company, while a vision statement paints a picture of the entity’s future. Put another way, a mission statement describes the company’s reason for existing now, while the vision provides its future purpose.

A mission statement is the document that defines what sort of activities an organization is involved in, what general objectives it has, and how it seeks to accomplish those objectives. A vision statement aims to define what kind of future the organization is working toward.

A mission statement keeps the organization focused on getting work done today, while a vision statement tries to determine what the mission statement will look like five, 10, or 25 years from now. These two statements are part of an effective overall growth strategy and brand vision.


Examples of mission and vision statements

To understand mission and vision statements, it’s helpful to look at some real-life examples of both. Some companies use the term mission and vision statement interchangeably, some call them value statements, and others combine them into one statement. I’ve attempted to break them out using seven examples based on the definitions above.

1. Teach for America

How the organization describes itself (mission): "Teach For America works toward the day when every child will receive an excellent and equitable education. We find and nurture leaders who commit to expanding opportunity for low-income students, beginning with at least two years teaching in a public school."

Vision statement: “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”

Teach for America’s vision statement articulates a desired future outcome of the organization, compared to its mission, which is focused on activities it is engaged in today. It also states the target demographic and lays out exactly what it hopes will be achieved.

2. LinkedIn

How the organization describes itself (mission): "Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful."

Vision statement: “Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”

LinkedIn’s vision statement describes a future outcome for the organization that, while not true today, provides the organization with an ambitious goal to work toward — at least compared to its mission of connecting professionals to make them more productive.

3. Facebook

How the organization describes itself (mission): "We build technologies that help people connect with friends and family, find communities, and grow businesses."

Vision statement: "Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together."

What Facebook describes as its mission statement is more accurately called a vision statement. It’s not concerned with the day-to-day sales and marketing it currently does and instead aspires to “bring the world closer together” through a variety of technologies. Its present mission, on the other hand, centers on connecting people, communities, and businesses.

4. Honest Tea

How the organization describes itself (mission): "To create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages."

Vision statement: “To make sure all families have access to organics by making our products widely available across the country.”

The vision statement, found within the mission statement, lays out a broader goal — to make their products widely available everywhere — compared to the mission statement, which is more focused on current customer engagement and creating healthy, organic beverages.

5. IKEA

How the organization describes itself (mission): "Offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them."

Vision statement: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”

IKEA’s mission today is to provide “well-designed, functional home furnishing products” at reasonable prices, but their vision statement is much more ambitious, seeking to create a “better everyday life” for people, which opens the door to the company to branch out in other areas besides furniture. If IKEA operated only under their mission statement, their business model in the future might be more constrained.

6. Tesla

How the organization describes itself (mission): "To prove that people didn't need to compromise to drive electric – that electric vehicles can be better, quicker and more fun to drive than gasoline cars."

Vision statement: “To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.”

Tesla’s mission revolves around producing electric vehicles and making them commercially viable in a market saturated by gasoline-powered cars. But their vision is broader and more ambitious, focusing on transitioning to sustainable energy — an idea that goes way beyond cars.

7. TED

How the organization describes itself (mission): "We're building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world's most inspired thinkers — and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other, both online and at TED and TEDx events around the world, all year long."

Vision statement: "TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world."

For TED, the mission statement describes what the organization is doing now, which is using TED events to spread ideas. Their vision statement is closely related but speaks in broader terms, talking about a global community and seeking a “deeper understanding of the world” — which, again, creates an opening for the company to go beyond their current focus on idea exchange.


Create your own mission and vision statements

Don’t have a mission or vision statement? Now’s the time to create one. This is an important task that will give your organization guidance and help you figure out what you should be doing on a day-to-day basis.

By beginning with the end in mind, as Covey says in "7 Habits," your organization is no longer a rudderless ship aimlessly floating in the sea of life. In fact, this is a good exercise to do with your own life — what vision do you have for yourself and your accomplishments a few decades from now? What activities should you be engaged in to achieve that vision?

One of the best small business tips you can get is to take time to do the deep thinking needed to answer these questions, both for yourself and your organization. You will come out of the process reinvigorated and ready to take on the world.

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The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned. Click here for more information.

Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook and Tesla. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.