What’s the difference between Mission, Vision, Goals and Strategy?

Mission, vision, goals, objectives, values, strategy, tactics – Have you ever been confused by these terms? If so you’re not alone. Few people are really clear what they mean and how they differ; especially as leaders and managers often use them interchangeably – leaving their teams very confused.

This page sets out the difference between each term and can be used to help you communicate clearly what needs to be achieved, why it is important and how you think you it can be done.

But before we start, lets quickly understand why leaders spend so much time talking about mission, vision and strategy in the first place.

Leading and motivating

Organisations (large or small) exist to deliver outcomes. For some, the key outcome is to increase shareholder profits, while others exist solely to improve lives. Regardless of the outcome, leadership is all about guiding and motivating people towards it, so that the organisation’s limited resources are used to maximise impact.

The best leaders are those who are able to paint a clear picture of why the organisation exists and what it aims to achieve, in a way that motivates and unites customers, staff, shareholders, funders and other stakeholders towards a common purpose – something that sounds straightforward, but in reality is remarkably challenging.

So now we are clear on why strategy-talk is important, lets define the terms:

Mission, Vision and Values

Traditionally, organisations have tried to paint the picture by creating statements that describe their Mission, Vision and Values: 

Mission

The Mission explains why the organisation exists – its purpose, the reason why the organisation was originally founded.

Some example Mission Statements:

  • To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses (Warby Parker)
  • To create and promote great-tasting, healthy, organic beverages (Honest Tea)
  • To spread ideas (TED)
  • To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy (Tesla)

Vision

The Vision explains what the organisation will accomplish – what will the organisation look like in the future (for internally-facing Visions) or what will be different about the world as a result of the organisation’s actions (for externally-facing Visions).

Some example internally-facing Vision Statements:

  • To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles (Tesla)
  • To become the world’s most loved, most efficient, and most profitable airline (Southwest Airlines)
  • To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online (Amazon)

And some example externally-facing Vision Statements:

  • A world where everyone has a decent place to live (Habitat for Humanity)
  • Equality for everyone (Human Rights Campaign)

Values

Values act as a cultural guide for how people should behave when carrying out the activities of the organisation. Often there is a disconnect between the lofty corporate statement of values and what actually happens within the organisation, but when used well, they can really help differentiate a brand and grow a business.

The outdoor clothing company Patagonia holds values that lend themselves to environmentally-friendly practices and a strong sustainability ethos, which they have used to differentiate their brand and a build a loyal consumer following.

Values can also change over time. During their early years of growth, the ride-sharing service Uber embraced ’scrappiness and hustling’ to show they expected managers to do whatever they could to build the business city-by-city. But as Uber has matured, their values have changed to try and reflect a more socially-responsible image.

Goals and Objectives

Goals and Objectives take things down to a greater level of detail and set a path towards the Vision:

Goals

Goals are easy-to-remember statements of what needs to be accomplished to move towards the Vision. They differ to Strategy, with Goals explaining what needs to be achieved, while Strategy explains how this will be achieved.

Examples include:

  • Increase efficiency
  • Capture a bigger market share
  • Provide better customer service
  • Raise employee skill levels

Objectives

Objectives take the level of detail down further still to provide much more specific, quantifiable, time-sensitive statements of what the goal actually means and how you will know you are reaching it. You might have multiple Objectives for each Goal, all helping you assess the effectiveness of your strategy.
Examples include:

  • Raise proportion of existing employees gaining xyz qualification by 20%
  • Raise proportion of new recruits with xyz qualification by 40%

Strategy and Tactics

Strategy and Tactics are the things you’ll do to reach your desired outcomes:

Strategy

Strategy operates at a high-level and takes a long-term view to determine the approach or approaches your organisation takes to navigate obstacles in order to reach Goals and move towards the overall Vision.

Strategies are also formed at different levels, so you might have a corporate strategy, a customer strategy, a technical strategy, team strategies, etc. The important thing is for there to be a connection and common theme between each strategy, so they are all aligned.

By setting objectives alongside strategy, it is possible to identify ways to measure the success of the strategy as it progresses, so that it can be adapted and improved.

Tactics

Tactics are the activities you will do on a day-to-day basis – they can change frequently, but need to guided by your strategy to ensure they actively contribute towards your Objectives and Goals.

For example a marketing team might run a tactical direct-mailing campaign to drive sales of a new product. To maximise impact, this campaign needs to align with the other activities the form the overall marketing strategy.

Clearly defining the strategic terminology for your organisation

While it is tempting to try and break the whole strategic planning process down into a series of sequential steps (first define vision, then goals, then objectives, then strategy…), the reality is that things will be much more iterative and interactive – i.e. goals, objectives and strategies will be formed interactively, while visions and missions will update as the world changes and the organisations adapts in response.

This means regular, ongoing communication between leaders and teams in all things strategy-related is vital to the long-term growth and success of the organisation and the starting point of the communication is having a clearly defined set of terms that everyone understands.

So whether you agree with my definitions above or have your own view, the crucial thing is to define a clear set of strategic terms that your organisation will use consistently and are fully understood by all your stakeholders – enabling more successful strategic thinking and planning activities to take place going forward.