Why visions aren’t future mission statements
A mission is a statement clearly defines why an organization exists. It should be short and very clear. It should differentiate the organization from its competitors. Why an organization exists should state unique value.
A vision states should be aspirational and forward-looking. It should derive from, and complement the mission statement without restating it.
The Disney example
The Walt Disney Company. Disney used to have a very clear mission statement: “Make People Happy.”
It didn’t say make people happy through animation, or theme parks, or interactive experiences. Those are details. Its mission was to make people happy.
Now their mission is “to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services, and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world. ” (And since 2015 the image associated with this statement is BB8 from Star Wars, not Mickey Mouse!).
Disney obviously hired a strategic planning consultant to help them shape their mission statement to match the expectations of MBAs on Wall Street. Their current statement does not enhance their mission but rather detracts because the reader must figure out what words like “differentiate” mean in the context of the statement. The words may be more strategic and more business-sounding. Does Disney still want to make people happy? Making people happy keeps customers returning, unlike a profitable, innovative entertainment experience. It is obvious that the new mission statement drove investments like Disney’s California Adventure that still seeks a working formula.
Examining Disney assets, even ESPN could sign up for making people happy. I was in Florida for a Patriots game once with a bunch of people from Boston. ESPN was blaring from speakers and shining from big screens. And the ESPN Club brought in portable taps so they could serve people outside. They scaled up the Club, and scaling up, and serving up Patriots football, meant people were happy. Somebody’s mission to make customers happy drove that experience.
Why visions aren’t future mission statements
A good vision should not be a statement. A vision should be a set of ideas that describe a future state. Some organizations like “vision statements,” but they are often abstract conciseness doesn’t leave room to define the tasks required to move from the present state to the future state. The future is something that an organization must grapple with. Visions should reflect the journey, not just the end state. Visions should provide a sense of aspiration, they should stretch the imagination. Visions should describe the state of the organization, across its functions, not rush to a summary. Different parts of an organization may have different visions.
The most effective way to build a is to think about it as a set of attributes or components. Then describe the capabilities and resources required to deliver those attributes. Think also about how to measure progress through both metrics and a roadmap (a sketch of a pathway that leads from the present to the goal).
At the broad vision level, organizations should not try to measure their progress. A vision statement isn’t a transformation into a future mission, it is the future fulfillment of the mission.
If you take the simple version of Disney’s mission statement, making people happy remains a constant. How to make people happy, however, evolves with technology and taste.
Their vision may include:
- Build Disney apps that engage customers of all ages with Disney branded gaming and information experiences.
- Remain the leader in delivering in-person entertainment experiences.
- Create new ways to enjoy and experience a guest’s favorite sports teams.
- Develop movie franchises that bring excitement to existing and emerging characters.
Those vision statements clearly require projects and investments to fulfill them. They also cross multiple Disney brands, which is fine, Disney is a complex company. Vision statements should align with business units. By breaking down vision along business unit lines it becomes much easier to understand what your business unit needs to do. And as the vision becomes more granular, it also becomes easier to measure.
Sometimes companies push back from the vision that includes current statements: “that isn’t a vision, we are already the leader in in-person entertainment experiences, and have been for years.”
Yes, in this example, Disney is the leader, but if they want to stay one, the aspiration should be reflected in the vision. A vision is not just about growing, but about maintaining. If the vision doesn’t include “being a leader in delivering in-person entertainment experiences” what does that mean for those parts of the business? Is there some future state that is better than being a leader? People might start asking if the company is abandoning those businesses, or de-investing until we end up with the “mediocre in the delivery of entertainment experiences.”
There was a time when Disney lost its collective soul, in the early to mid-1980s when box office share dwindled to less than 4% and they turned down films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET – and were the target of investment raiders. Theme parks became real estate and Disney movies thudded as uninspired. Poor management reflected a poor understanding of vision and mission. Happy people were no longer center stage.
The bottom line
The bottom line on vision then is to recognize the complexities of the business and create visions for areas that are meaningful to internal and external constituencies and make sure these visions are consistent with the mission. Grapple with the future. If the vision is ten years out, you don’t have to understand how to achieve it today, but you do need to start prioritizing investments, including learning investments, that dip toes into the future so you really understand what the organization will need to achieve the vision. The state that eventually arrives in a decade may be very different than the one was documented ten years prior, but by then, the vision should be another ten years ahead. A vision should help inform direction and help set priorities. It should not be unchanging. As organizations learn, they need to adjust and adapt and reflect that learning in the vision. That is why scenarios are so important: they help you practice different futures in which the vision might unfold—each scenario requiring different tactics and strategies, perhaps even different visions.
Any vision that stays the same for a decade fails as a vision. Visions should be used every time an investment or de-investment decision is made, and if parts prove no longer valid, or if the world presents new opportunities, then the vision should be updated. Visioning is a process, not an output. You can share your vision with people, but it should be shared with the caveat that it is updated regularly, and with the request: “please share your thoughts because we are always open to new perspectives and better ways to think about our future.” That approach will not only make the vision more meaningful and resilient, but it will also make the organization behave as a learning organization, and for organizations that want to continue to win, learning should always show up somewhere in their vision.
For more on mission statements please see:
Tips for How to Write a Mission Statement
Strategy, Values and Mission Statements