Do a Company’s Vision and Mission Statements Have Expiration Dates?

Vision and Mission

We probably don’t need to convince anyone that having a vision and mission matters. They give you a North Star, help you focus on a goal, and act as a check for your strategic decisions. But how long should a vision and mission stay intact? At what point should you change your mission and vision?

Like many brand strategy decisions, it depends. At Emotive Brand, we believe a company should update their mission when it doesn’t match their strategy. Few would argue with this point, right? What’s more difficult than deciding if you should change your mission, though, is how it should change. When we work with clients, we develop missions that are inspirational, aspirational, and can stand the test of time.

Let’s talk first about the definitions. A mission is a tangible goal that can be used to organize teams around products and services to meet the goal. A vision, in contrast, is a company’s destination and unifying principle.

We like to share NASA’s vision and mission with clients because they both map so well to these definitions:

NASA Vision: “To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

NASA Mission: “Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and bring new knowledge and opportunities back to Earth. Support growth of the Nation’s economy in space and aeronautics, increase understanding of the universe and our place in it, work with industry to improve America’s aerospace technologies, and advance American leadership.”

NASA had another mission previously – one we actually prefer to share for its simplicity: “To pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.” So why the change? The latest mission statement was updated after the 2016 election. The new administration likely wanted to take ownership over the strategy and reflect the Trump Administration’s pro-business stance and an America-first agenda. The vision has evolved, too, but isn’t so far away from what NASA stated as their vision in 2004, “To improve life here, to extend life to there, to find life beyond,” and also similar to what NASA stated in 2014, “We reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.”

While a vision – like NASA’s – usually remains stable for a long period of time, missions change more frequently.

How long can a mission last? Three years is likely too short of time, but 20 years may be too long to keep the same mission. Of course, when your mission no longer describes your business, isn’t believable, or doesn’t reflect the current management’s goals, you’re ready for something new. Changing a mission is acceptable and common. And as the NASA example shows, strong organizations change their missions all the time.

Ready to get started?

Here are some tips to make sure you aren’t revisiting your vision and mission exercise too soon:

Make it Aspirational

We recently worked with a company that wanted to move from a product focus to a solution focus. Even though the shift was still very much in progress, the company already knew the direction where they were headed. Changing their mission allowed them to be more aspirational and communicate their new focus both internally and externally.

Give Yourself Some Runway

It’s a balancing act to pick a mission that can work for today and tomorrow without cutting off possibilities or narrowing your focus too much. A great mission flexes with the future. For instance, we developed a mission for one of our clients, a new company offering food allergy treatment. While the company eventually may offer its services to adults, today they focus on children. We made sure their mission statement didn’t tie them to a specific audience and kept the door open to a broader market.

Do More than Describe – Create Excitement

Your mission’s goal is as much about describing your company’s reason for being as it is about firing up your employees. Missions that are solely descriptive fall flat. You want to communicate the role you will have – be it the industry leader, the market’s convener, or the company creating the most sophisticated technology. When you put a stake in the ground, you create excitement externally and among your employees.

Keep it Simple

Your mission should always be on the minds of your employees and well-understood by the rest of the world. If it is too long or complicated, it’s hard to remember and support. (Read NASA’s current mission above again if you don’t believe us.) Simplicity isn’t easy. In the process of writing your mission, you’ll likely throw away many, many options but, trust us, it is worth it.

Vision and mission development is hard work. While it is an interesting process and can bring a company together, it requires significant investment. When you create your vision and mission with its utility and longevity in mind, you ensure you don’t repeat the process again too soon. And if you are looking for help, do let us know.

 

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy agency.

Comments (2)

  1. I love the clairity you bring to mission/vision with the NASA example, Bella. Well done.

    • Thanks Ted, we are dedicated to continuing to write content people love

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