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What is a Purpose or Mission statement? A Vision statement?
Bruce D. Wyman


Your statement of Mission or Purpose is your critical starting point and should require a great deal of HARD thinking on your part, because it is the keystone for all that follows in building your Strategic Business Plan. It should specify what your business or association will provide and to whom, irrespective of changes in profits, numbers of employees, changes in political environments, physical location, tax and operating laws and regulations, etc. The WHAT YOU SELL part can be very tricky to figure out (e.g., the president of Revlon reportedly revealed that, although Revlon manufactures and distributes cosmetics, what they really sell is HOPE). Your Purpose or Mission statement significantly constrains or enhances the way you view your business or association and the challenges and opportunities that arise. The remaining parts of Strategic Business Planning are equally easy(?).

A Vision describes what the company or association sees itself or some principal element of its environment as being "when it grows up." "In 15 years, how would you want your company or association described in a thumbnail sketch, if it were mentioned [in a positive context] on page 1 of the New York Times or London Times?" (For example, a Vision might be: "No individual within the quad-state area goes to bed on any night without having a hot meal made available within the sphere of their environment.") The Vision is "what it will be" and the Purpose/Mission is "what it does."

For more great business topics like this please visit the Bruce D. Wyman Company website at

The Mission Comes First

Peter F. Drucker, in Managing the Non-Profit Organization. 1990, HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-016507-3.

  1. (p. 3) The three most charismatic leaders in this century inflicted more suffering on the human race than almost any trio in history: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. What matters is not the leader's charisma. What matters is the leader's mission. Therefore, the first job of the leader is to think through and define the mission of the institution.

  2. Here is a simple and mundane example--the mission statement of a hospital emergency room: "It's our mission to give assurance to the afflicted." That's simple and clear and direct. Or take the mission of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.: to help girls grow into proud, self-confident, and self-respecting young women. There is an Episcopal church on the East Coast which defines its mission as making Jesus the head of this church and its chief executive officer. Or the mission of the Salvation Army, which is to make citizens out of the rejected. Arnold of Rugby, the greatest English educator of the nineteenth century, who created the English public school, defined its mission as making gentlemen out of savages.

  3. My favorite mission definition, however, is not that of a non-profit institution, but of a business. It's a definition that changed Sears from a near-bankrupt, struggling mail-order house at the beginning of the century into the world's leading retailer within less than ten years: It's our mission to be the informed and responsible buyer--first for the American farmer, and later for the American family altogether.

  4. Almost every hospital I know says, "Our mission is health care." And that's the wrong definition. The hospital does not take care of health; the hospital takes care of illness. You and I take care of health....

  5. A mission statement has to be operational, otherwise it's just good intentions. A mission statement has to focus on what the institution really tries to do and then do it so that everybody in the organization can say, This is my contribution to the goal....

  6. The task of the non-profit manager is to try to convert the organization's mission statement into specifics....

  7. One of our most common mistakes is to make the mission statement into a kind of hero sandwich of good intentions. It has to be simple and clear. As you add new tasks, you deemphasize and get rid of old ones. You can only do so many things. Look at what we are trying to do in our colleges. The mission statement is confused--we are trying to do fifty different things.... As you add on, you have to abandon. But you also have to think through which are the few things we can accomplish that will do the most for us, and which are the things that contribute either marginally or are no longer of great significance.

  8. THE THREE "MUSTS" OF A SUCCESSFUL MISSION. Look at strength and performance. Do better what you already do well--if it's the right thing to do.... And so one asks first, what are the opportunities, the needs? Then, do they fit us? Are we likely to do a decent job? Are we competent? Do they match our strengths? Do we really believe in this? This is not just true of products, it's true of services. So, you need three things: opportunities; competence; and commitment. Every mission statement, believe me, has to reflect all three or it will fall down on what is its ultimate goal, its ultimate purpose and final test. It will not mobilize the human resources of the organization for getting the right things done.

  9. (p. 9) The most important task of an organization's leader is to anticipate crisis. Perhaps not to avert it, but to anticipate it..... Problems of success have ruined more organizations than has failure, partly because if things go wrong, everybody knows they have to go to work. Success creates its own euphoria. You outrun your resources. And you retire on the job, which may be the most difficult thing to fight.

  10. (p. 45) THE ACTION IMPLICATIONS. We hear a great deal these days about leadership, and it's high time we did. But actually, mission comes first. Non-profit institutions exist for the sake of their mission. They exist to make a difference in society and in the life of the individual. They exist for the sake of their mission, and this must never be forgotten. The first task of the leader is to make sure that everybody sees the mission, hears it, lives it. If you lose sight of your mission, you begin to stumble and it shows very, very fast. And yet, mission needs to be thought through, needs to be changed.

  11. So we start always with the long range, and then we feed back and say, What do we do today? ... Leadership is doing.... And the first imperative of doing is to revise the mission, to refocus it, and to build and organize, and then abandon.... The next thing to do is to think through priorities. That's easy to say. But to act on it is hard because it always involves abandoning things that look very attractive, that people inside and outside the organization are pushing for. But if you don't concentrate your institution's resources, you are not going to get results. This may be the ultimate test of leadership: the ability to think through the priority decision and to make it stick.

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