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Weighing the Merits of Vision and Mission Statements

April 1, 1996
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Kelvin Ham, human resources manager at AMBAC International in Columbia, South Carolina, says:
Our company’s vision statement gives the company direction. It’s the basic premise for the success of the mission statement. The vision statement is the starting point and the actual glue that will keep us on our long-term track. Our vision statement, "Working Together, We Can Do Anything," may sound too short and sweet, but we feel it’s where AMBAC International will need the most success to bring our mission statement to life.

In our case, the mission statement establishes AMBAC International’s future course. It tells who we are and what we are. It reinforces the importance of our customers and investors. We consider it the beacon that will lead the company to success. Our mission statement says: "We are a full-service precision manufacturing company oriented toward the supply of fuel injection systems, equipment and peripheral devices. We will continually improve our products and services to meet our customers’ needs. We will also ensure a rewarding work environment for our associates, and provide a fair return to our investors."

The purpose for having two statements is simple. The statements give our company a fuller identity. They express the present and future goals of the company to all concerned. Our HR department, along with the entire company, uses them as tools to aid recruitment, retention, training and advancement of qualified associates. We express our feelings and beliefs in the statements to all present and future customers, as well as investors. We live the vision every day. Our focus is on the mission and making our company a success.

A lot of companies today have become complacent with their vision and mission statements. Their employees don’t understand what the company expects of them, and the customers aren’t certain what the company stands for. Vision and mission statements, therefore, can refocus and redirect companies, employees, customers and investors. They’re important. Consider creating or revising a vision statement to make your mission more successful.

John M. Noel, president of the Noel Group in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, says:
Company mission statements often appear on plaques, company letterhead, marketing literature and other corporate paraphernalia. But ask an employee in the hallway to recite that statement, and it’s likely you’ll receive a puzzled response. That’s because many corporate mission statements are so broad or staid they provide little inspiration to workers.

That being said, I do think vision and mission statements are valuable if everyone in the company understands them or is involved in their formation. At the Noel Group, we gave our employees the opportunity to collaborate on a book we produced titled "Foundations." The title is revealing because the book contains various one-sentence expressions from our employees that reflect their personal beliefs and value systems.

Vision statements are different from mission statements. I like to think of the vision statement as big-picture thinking with a little bit of soul. It should communicate the direction of the company and provide inspiration for the journey. Mission statements should articulate the principles that will guide the corporation and its employees to grow, advance and prosper.

At the Noel Group, every division and department has its own mission statement, written by the employees in each area with feedback by other co-workers. This process instilled a sense of ownership among the employees. The mission statements reflect day-to-day interactions with customers, co-workers and suppliers, and provide a clear understanding of our products and services.

You may still put your company’s vision and mission statements on your letterhead, but the real goal is to get your employees to work by them each day.

Personnel Journal, April 1996, Vol. 75, No. 4, p. 158.

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