Distinguishing Purpose and Vision

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

I just read an article, sent by a dear friend, which was trying to make a distinction between “mission” and “purpose”. The intent was to help organizations define things well enough to have meaningful measurements which help them evaluate if they are doing the right things, are on the right track, are achieving their goals. The primary problem with so many consultants trying to slice and separate those two terms, I think, is that they are inseparable. No wonder they are often confused; they are identical twins! They are, at most perhaps, two sides of the same coin.

Here’s my take on it ——— “They” say:

Mission: what you do

Vision: how you imagine it coming about

Purpose: why you do it

I work with NGOs and teach them:

Mission/Purpose: why you exist/what you do

Vision: what you’re aiming to do (a preferred future) by doing what you do in alignment with why you exist

Strategy: how you’re going to accomplish that vision

So, basically, I disagree with “their” definitions. To be fair, not all consultants have the semantic confusion; and, no, I’m not the only one who holds this view and picks this nit.

Mission IS purpose, in my book. It answers the question: Why do we exists? What are we to BE?

Vision answers the question: What do we want to accomplish in fulfilling this purpose? Vision is (to use a term from a friend) a BHAG (a big, hairy, audacious goal).

Strategy answers: How are we going to go about doing that? What are our chosen means to achieve that end?

What do you think?

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