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Dr. Ed Merritt is the James A. Collins Distinguished Professor of Management at California State University (Cal Poly Pomona). His education includes a Doctoral degree from Cornell University (PhD), Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Pepperdine University, and Bachelor's degree (BS) from the University of Alabama. Dr. Merritt is the author of seven books on management, as well as more than 200 publications and presentations. Research and consulting interests include leadership, strategy, and survey questionnaires for organizations worldwide. Contact Dr. Merritt: www.EdwardAMerritt.com edwardamerritt@gmail.com

Friday, April 17, 2009

Which Comes First, Vision or Mission?

Dear Dr. Merritt:

It was a pleasure to hear you speak in S.F.

When we were together, I said I had a question, but the meeting was beginning and there was not time to ask it. So, here it is….when you talk about vision and mission, which comes first? Clearly you must have a vision to create the organization. Having said that, many companies have a mission statement and don’t have a vision statement. I have heard it taught that you establish the mission statement and then develop the vision statement. My concern with that is if you are working from your mission statement, then you are working with what already “is” and are not exploring all possibility for vision, if you had a clean slate to work from.

Many organizations have a mission statement and no vision statement. They obviously had some sort of vision to create the company, but so many generations have passed, this vision may be lost. What is your suggestion for a company that has a mission but no vision statement for forward movement? I would love to have your thoughts on this.

Thanks for this and thanks for all that you give back to the industry.



You are welcome. It was good seeing you, as well.

Vision and mission are often debated in terms of order. Many business strategy texts list mission first. I usually list vision as being first, because I view vision as being the wider view than mission. The discussion of order is not as important as the content of the two. In reality, vision and mission often occur (at least evolve) more-or-less simultaneously. Your comment is correct, many private organizations lose connection to their vision. When that happens we get Frankenstein companies – a bit of this and a bit of that. Organizations that find themselves in this position certainly benefit from a higher view of the organization, which I refer to as a helicopter view. A helicopter view allows leaders to remove themselves from the day-to-day as if they are at a height of 1,000 feet and looking down on the organization as a whole and establish (or re-establish) the fundamental tenets of what the organization is (or should be) all about.

This excerpt is from my book, Leading the Strategic Planning Process, which may help clarify your question further:

Vision, is perhaps, the most fundamental of the elements in strategic planning. Vision is future oriented. Vision includes the basic concept of what the organization is all about—its purpose for being. Using vision, the organization is able to know where it is heading. Vision infuses the organization with a definite sense of purpose. In a sense, vision states a direction and describes the destination.

Mission includes the broadest and highest level of organizational goals and objectives. In a mission statement, the organization would state why it exists. A mission statement would also include purpose and describe the basic services provided. Generally, the mission can be viewed as a statement, which, if realized, can help ensure success.

Mission, perhaps more than any other element of the strategic process elucidates the first-order reasons for the organization's existence as they flow downward toward more specificity from the vision. Mission, then, flows directly from the vision and begins the crystallization of detail.

All the best,