Alligators and crocodiles have a strikingly similar appearance, so it’s not surprising that they’re often mistaken for each other. The shape of their heads is one possible way to tell them apart, but the mugger crocodile of India has a rounded snout making it look just like an alligator. Another way to tell them apart is to take a look at their teeth. Crocodiles have two teeth on their lower jaw that stick out, one on either side, but you can’t always tell when their mouth is wide open and they’re chasing you.

The best way to separate the gators from the crocs is by their salt tolerance. Crocodiles have special glands that help them expel excess salt, so they’re happy in saltwater habitats such as coastal swamps. In alligators, those salt glands aren’t very well developed, so gators are more likely to be found in freshwater.

For those interested in business planning, distinguishing a strong mission statement from a strong vision statement can also be quite confusing.  Often, the words are used interchangeably, but there are key differences between them.

Here’s a valuable rule of thumb…

Mission statements are present-oriented.  Vision statements are future-oriented.

A mission statement defines the company’s business… its objectives and its approach to reach the future aspirations of the company. Knowing who you are and where you’re going is the foundation of an organization’s success. Your mission statement drives the company and its culture. A solid mission statement can become a rallying point for associates and provides the self-motivation to excel.  Mission statements answer the following questions:

  • Why does the business exist?
  • What are we committed to providing to our customers?
  • What promises are we making to our clients?
  • What wants, needs, desires, pain, or problems do our products and services meet and solve?
  • What is our unique value proposition?

On the other hand, a vision statement describes the desired future status of the organization.  It is aspirational. A strong vision statement invites innovation. Conversely, a lack of vision is a road to nowhere for your company… potentially causing stagnation, outdated practices, or uninspired results.

Visions statements answer the following questions:

  • What type of business is this?
  • What market does it serve?
  • What is the geographic scope?
  • Where will the business be located?
  • Who are the target customers?
  • What are the key products and services?
  • How big will the company be…and when?
  • What will revenues be?
  • Will it have employees?  How many?

With these thoughts in mind, be sure your mission and vision statements are clearly defined and understood by associates, vendors, strategic partners, and other stakeholders. Above all else, if you don’t get the words right, you might be building the wrong business!

Together the mission statement and vision statement act to guide management’s thinking on strategic issues. They help define performance standards and inspire associates to work more productively by providing focus and setting common goals. Externally they enlist external support, create better communication and linkages with customers, suppliers, and strategic partners. They can even serve as a valuable public relations tool.

Here are a few examples of well-conceived vision and mission statements from several business sectors you may find helpful…

Southwest Airlines’ mission:  The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit.

Its vision statement:  To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.

These are effective mission and vision statements. Its mission answers the level of commitment to and promise to customers.  It defines why the airline exists.  Their vision is highly aspirational across all important areas and starts with the phrase “To become…”

Cisco’s mission is:  Shape the future of the Internet by creating unprecedented value and opportunity for our customers, employees, investors, and ecosystem partners.

Its vision:  “Changing the way we work, live, play, and learn”

While the mission statement does refer to the future, it communicates meeting the needs of the customer and other stakeholders.  It is a “blended” mission and vision statement.

Ferrari’s Mission:  We build cars, symbols of Italian excellence the world over, and we do so to win both road and track.  Unique creations that fuel the Prancing Horse legend and generate a “World of Dreams and Emotions.

Its vision:  Ferrari… Italian excellence that makes the world dream.

The mission statement stays in the present and focuses on the strength and quality of Ferrari’s product.

The vision statement is ambitious.  Their cars will reach the pinnacle of “Italian Excellence.”

Google’s mission:  To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Its vision:  To provide access to the world’s information in one click.

Google’s mission clarifies the organization and the accessibility it offers. Their vision statement is about improving accessibility in the future “in one click.”

Finally, assuming the reader knows nothing about your business, would your vision and mission statements clearly answer the questions above?  After reflecting on your statements for a few days, consider sharing them with at least two people and asking them for feedback. When well written, these mission and vision statements will form the backbone of any good business plan. To add needed objectives, strategies, and action plans, The One Page Business Plan methodology will help you create a viable plan without weeks or months of endless meetings and thick binders. Check it out by clicking on the button below.