Demystifying mission and vision, and what we can learn from NIKE


Most organisations have a mission. They may also have a vision, and set of values.

Most organisations also fall into the trap of overcomplicating the simple. Confusion over terminology doesn’t really help the situation.

So what is the difference between a mission and a vision, why should we care, and how do we create great ones?

What’s the difference between a mission and the vision?

The mission defines the reason the organisation exists, and is unlikely to change over time.

Great mission statements connect with the needs and objectives of customers, rather than on products, services or capabilities.

NIKE’s mission statement is:

To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the World

* if you have a body, you are an athlete

(the asterix clarification was reportedly added by Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman)

NIKE exist to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the World. That is what they have always done, and what they will always do.

Like all great mission statements, it is timeless.

The vision sets out where the organization wants to go.

It is normally more specific than a mission.

While a mission rarely changes over time, a vision will evolve customer needs evolve.

NIKE’s vision has 4 core elements:

1. deliver break-through innovation in our products and services

2. reach new levels of sustainability as we enhance product performance

3. develop deeper, more meaningful connections with our consumers

4. present our products in compelling experiences at retail

Notice how the vision is also grounded in the needs of the customers NIKE serves.

It is not about products, or services, or capabilities.

It is focused on what NIKE customers want and demand today.

Some of these elements may remain the same for many years, and others will change and evolve.

Visions change over time, missions are constant

As the NIKE annual report in 2014 states:

NIKE has been in business for over 40 years. In those four decades, we’ve seen the business of sports change tremendously. But one thing has remained constant: our passion for serving athletes by developing the most innovative products and services to help them reach their full potential. Our relentless focus on the athlete fuels our growth and powers our ability to deliver long-term values for shareholders.

In other words, over the last 40 years their vision has evolved as the business of sports has evolved.

Their mission remained constant.

They continue to focus relentlessly on their customer, the athlete.

Why do we care?

We care because organisations with a clear mission and vision are far more likely to be successful.

Consider the opening line of a letter from the NIKE President to shareholders in August 2014:

NIKE’s success is grounded in our ability to stay true to our mission

Mark Parker, President and Chief Executive Officer, NIKE Inc.

Of all the things that contribute to the success of NIKE, the their ability to stay true to their mission is the most important.

Compare that to Blackberry or Kodak or HMV.

Instead of being focused on serving the needs of their customers, they focused on the products and capability that they had.

If they had instead focused relentlessly on their customers, they would probably still be successful today.

A clear, customer focused mission and vision helps an organization to:

1. remain focused on the needs of their customers, rather than the products, services, or capabilities.

2. align the people in the organization behind a clear common goal. Whether you design running shoes, add up the numbers, or clean the toilets in NIKE, you are there to serve athletes.

3. prioritise and allocate resources to projects that are aligned to the mission and vision

4. make choices and decisions.

The best organisations make all decisions with reference to their mission and vision.

They ask a simple question: how does this fit with our mission and vision?

How do we write a great mission statement?

Developing a great mission statement is actually quite straightforward, as long as you remain focused on your customer and their needs.

Most organisations become very internally focused when they develop their mission statement.

They attempt to force fit customer needs to their existing products, services, or capabilities.

To avoid these traps, and develop a great mission, consider the following:

Start with your target customer

Start by understanding your target customer. Who are they, where do they live, what do they do, what is important to them? Why do they choose you today? What will keep them coming back?

Satisfy customer needs, don’t sell product

Define your mission, vision and values around satisfying the needs of your target customer, and not around the product of service you are selling. NIKE don’t sell running shoes, they inspire you to be the best athlete you can be.

Keep it short and simple

A great mission is memorable, so keep it short. Keep it simple so that everyone can easily understand it.

The last thing you want is to confuse people with ambiguity.

Be inspirational & get emotional

NIKE make you feel that you are reaching your potential as an athlete, whatever that potential is.

They are connecting with a deep emotional driver. Who doesn’t want to reach their ultimate potential?

What deep emotional driver does your organization connect with? Build your mission around it.

Final thought

Whatever the type of organization, a clear mission and vision is critical. Take a learning from NIKE. Focus relentlessly on your customers, and keep it short so that everyone can understand it. It won’t guarantee success, but it will certainly put the balance in your favour.


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