Organizations create mission and vision statements to convey the direction in which they're going. Both statements help communicate the intentions an organization has and its goals for the future. But each statement is created for a separate reason and each holds a different meaning.

Mission Statements

A mission statement describes an organization’s overall purpose, including defining its key measures of success. A mission statement's target audience is primarily internal: the organization's employees, leadership, even its stockholders. When organizations create mission statements, they take into account the products and services they offer, as well as the company’s image, values and priorities. The focus is on how the organization should be operating, and it serves as a very general blueprint for employees to follow. If the mission statement says customer satisfaction is paramount, for example, then that's what employees should see as their top priority.

Vision Statements

A vision statement outlines the organization’s key values and lays out where the organization intends to go over time. It's designed to provide inspiration and focus to employees, as well as give customers a sense of what the organization believes in. A vision statement can include things that are not true now but that the organization is striving to make true. For example, a vision statement may say that a company has a goal of becoming the largest player in its industry, even if it is not so now.

Differences Between the Two

One key difference with mission and vision statements is the time element. A mission statement talks primarily about what the company is currently doing. It focuses on the present state of the organization. A vision statement, on the other hand, is a projection of where the company wants to be in the future. These statements are designed to work together. If a company follows its mission statement, then the vision statement will be what the company has to look forward to in the future. Vision statements are generally created before mission statements, because a vision statement will direct the company on how it must operate today to get to where it wants to be.

Essential Elements

Effective mission statements should include the values and purpose of the organization, its primary stakeholders and its responsibilities to these stakeholders. They are often created by determining what the company does today, who it does it for and how it does it. Effective vision statements should paint a vivid picture, describe a bright future and offer realistic ambitions. When vision statements are created, companies look at what they want in the future, when they want it and how to accomplish it.