When sailing the unpredictable waters of today’s consulting market, it’s important to have a reliable sextant to guide you. A mission statement can take the form of that navigational instrument and help you steer your firm into calmer seas.

In a recent article, Pam Gersh offered advice on turning a vision into a mission statement. Some readers disagreed with her definition of a mission statement. Here are some directives your fellow members offered to help you chart a course for your firm.

Mission or vision: What’s the question?
Robert K. Gillelan had a particular problem with the examples of mission statements that Gersh provided. “A mission statement implies and usually embodies directives and regimentation. Pam Gersh’s examples [from] Wal-Mart, KPMG, etc. are actually vision statements,” Gillelan wrote.

What’s the difference between these two types of statements? According to Gillelan, “A vision statement reveals how a company inspires its employees and stakeholders to take the initiative and give momentum to your company’s success.

“A mission statement usually dictates how people are to respond in given situations. We’ve all seen those 1,000-word, framed mission statements that everyone ignores.”

Another member, Peter Nayland Kust of TekMedia Communications, offered a somewhat different viewpoint: “Mission statements are not about what is, but what is possible,” he wrote. “If the mission statement is merely a reflection of the company as it exists today, what purpose does it serve?”

What are the components of a vision statement?
Gillelan advised that a vision statement should be two or three sentences that answer three questions:

1. Who are our customers?

2. What do we sell?

3. Why would a customer find value in doing business with us?

“Most importantly,” Gillelan writes, “a true vision statement becomes a yardstick that measures the relevance of market conditions and management fads on business decisions…Leaders have a vision; followers have a mission.”

Kust pointed out that if the entire organization doesn’t “buy in” to the mission statement, it doesn’t do any good.

“Corporate mission statements should come from the corporate leadership. It is through devices such as the mission statement that corporate leaders chart the broad strategic course for their organizations,” Kust wrote. “Once the statement is published, it is the duty of the leadership to evangelize its tenets to the corporate rank and file. Buy-in must be achieved, but buy-in should follow the mission statement, not precede it.”

ITtoOD concurred and provided an anecdote to illustrate the folly of one unfortunate CEO:

“He wrote and published our mission and values, and everyone laughed. He wrote a statement that had nothing to do with what we really did every day, and the values listed some things that were in direct conflict to the actual practices of the company. Later, the people who actually did work in the company got together in a strategizing session—specifically not inviting the CEO—and decided on their own focus.”
Did a new mission or vision statement revitalize or refocus your firm? We want to hear from you! E-mail us your story or post your comment below.