Vision vs. mission vs. strategy
Last updated: February 2024
"You've got to think about big things while you're doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction." Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote about the effects of rapid technological change and popularized the phrase "information overload." This quote in particular reinforces the importance of setting a strategic direction and mapping out your plan to take action.
Vision, mission, and strategy are the drivers that help you reach your destination.
What is the difference between vision, mission, and strategy?
Vision is your forward-looking starting point — it establishes where you want your company to be in the future and why it matters. Mission captures at a high level what you will do to realize your vision. And strategy lays out the goals, big themes of work, and go-to-market approach that will help you achieve both the vision and mission.
Some people use the terms vision and mission interchangeably. Or may even think of these higher-level concepts as a fluffy ideal that is not tied to daily work. But both are foundational to business growth. Aspirational statements can be a rallying point for the team and a catalyst for real action.
Even leaders with a clear vision and mission may struggle with infusing the essence of both into the company's DNA. This is especially true once the organization grows and you have less direct contact with the entire team. Most days are filled with interruptions and time spent in meetings.
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This is what makes vision, mission, and strategy so critical — you can bring the future into the everyday. You just have to start thinking about vision, mission, and strategy in practical terms. Let's define these related concepts:
What: Vision is about the future. It is core to who you are as a company and why you exist. Vision helps the entire organization understand that larger purpose. Use plain language to ensure everyone grasps it. For example, our vision at Aha! is a world of lovable software. This vision drives our culture and values and our strategic direction.
When: Vision is enduring, but not immutable. It should feel inspiring and fresh even as market conditions and product direction may change. Make reevaluation part of your strategic planning process. Revisit it at least every few years or any time the organization is undergoing major transformation.
What: Mission is what you will do or build to achieve your vision. It puts your vision in pragmatic terms and helps guide strategy. You can use it to define success and how you will differentiate yourself from others in the same market. Our mission at Aha! is to help companies build software that their customers love.
When: Mission should be actionable and concrete. Like vision, it should also be fairly static — with opportunities to realign when needed. It should adapt as you launch new products or experience periods of tremendous growth.
What: Strategy is an operational plan — the measurable goals, high-level initiatives, and other work items that will help you achieve your vision and mission. Setting strategy provides focus. These are guardrails for decisions about what you should work on now and what should wait. Anything that moves you closer to your vision and mission should be prioritized. Anything that does not? Honor this truth and say no.
When: Strategy is dynamic and should be revisited routinely. We renew strategic initiatives every six months at Aha! The pace of change in today's world requires this kind of responsiveness. As your strategy shifts, refresh the business roadmap that brings together the "why," "what," and "when" of the current plans.
Even if you are not the person who defines your company's vision and mission, you can still implement a brilliant strategy that serves both.
No matter where you sit in the organization, it is your responsibility to make sure that the work you do has strategic importance. Connecting your work to the company's vision, mission, and strategy is challenging and ongoing. This is how you can find joy at work — bringing greater meaning to the tasks of each day.
How would you improve the vision, mission, and strategy at your organization?
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