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Vision, Mission, Values: Are They Really That Important???

“You must have a 30 second elevator speech.”

“Your people must know WHY they do what they do.”

“We need clarity and direction to really move forward.”

“Our purpose must be communicated and owned by the entire team.”

“Every organization needs a road map, some direction.”

“It’s not just what we do, it’s why we do it.”.

“What noble worthy cause are we here to serve.”.

These are just a few of the statements I’ve heard and read (and to be honest, I’ve said) over the years from leaders and managers from every sector.

All of these statements were part of some conversation related to vision, mission, and values, or some variation thereof.

I’ve always assumed that vision, mission, and values must be important because there’s so much literature and dialogue dedicated to them.  And after all, they’re on the wall of almost every nonprofit, small business, corporation and government agency you walk in.  Now I’m questioning this assumption because of something that has happened repeatedly over the years, as recent as yesterday.

I find myself standing before a group, a team, a tribe, a board, a leader, or a follower and I’ll ask a series of questions:

Question 1: Got a Vision Statement?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 2: What is it?

Answer: “Not sure” or  “I don’t know” or “I think it’s something like __________” or “It’s on the website”

Question 3: Got a Mission Statement?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 4: What is it?

Answer: “Not Sure” or  “I don’t” or “I think it’s something like_________” or “It’s on the website”

Question 5: Have any organizational or corporate values?

Answer: “Yes”

Question 6: What are they?

Answer: “Not sure” or “I don’t know” or “I think they’re something like ________” or “They’re on the website”

For some reason these answers are troubling to me. I don’t expect everyone to know the vision, mission, and values verbatim, but I would hope they would know the “essence” of them.  So here are a few questions I’m now considering:

1. Have we over-stated the importance of vision, mission, and values statements?

2. What does it mean, if anything, if key people don’t know the vision, mission, and values?

3. Do people need to “know” the vision, mission, and values in order to fulfill their roles, responsibilities and expectations?

4. Does presenting & viewing vision, mission, and values as “statements” create any challenges?

I have other questions, but I’m starting here.  Do me a favor, share your feedback regarding the questions above.  Any answers or insights are greatly appreciated, because I want to know if Vision, Mission and Values are Really That Important.





  1. Kim Keel January 12, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    If you aren’t sure where you are going, then anywhere will do. Or, as my dad always said, “If you can reduce it to writing, then you have to wonder if it’s worth doing.”

    My 30+ years experience in the nonprofit sector has led me to conclude that the majority of NPO staffers suffer from a fairly straightforward branding and identity crisis when they don’t know the essence of the answers to the questions you posed.

    Being very disciplined about including the (short) mission as a footer on every document (if it won’t fit, it’s too long…), investing in dollar store frames so that the “Why We Do What We Do” sits on every associate and board members’ desk or bookcase, and being very intentional in asking the ‘Mission’ question (with small chocolate reinforcements) at every staff and hoard meeting are simple and inexpensive ways to repeat the message often enough that it resonates as part of the DNA of an organization. It has to 1. Be genuine, 2. Be accurate, and 3. Be TOMA, if it’s going to stick.

  2. Charles January 12, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    I love it Kim. Great feedback. I really like the “DNA” – you’re’ so right. Thanks for the feedback.

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