Mission, Core Values, and Vision: The Big Three
In late 2014, I wrapped up a book on strategic planning. During the course of my research I had the chance to read dozens of strategic plans and discovered that many plans are awash in foundational documents. They had missions and visions and core values. One school listed five pillars. Many schools listed distinctives. Others cited shared values or governing principles.
The most elegant plans were built on just three documents; statements they used to guide not only the strategic planning process, but the institution itself.
The three are mission, core values, and vision.
Your mission statement is your declaration of purpose, your raison d’être. A mission statement answers the questions:
- What do we do?
- Whom do we do it for?
- How do we do it?
- Why do we do what we do?
A clear and widely held mission is vital. Not only will it declare who you are, but it will also declare who you are not and thereby reduce the number of competing missions that waste time, talent, and treasure.
Your core values are those enduring beliefs, both stated and unstated, which your institution—and the people who inhabit it—hold in common and endeavor to put into action. Core values do not describe your mission. Rather, core values describe how you will go about your work; they define how you will choose to interact with each other.
It is very unlikely that you will dramatically change your core values as part of strategic planning. You might, however, update the language or clarify a phrase that is subject to multiple interpretation. In addition, you might decide to emphasize some core values more than others in response to a specific need, expectation, or event.
Your vision describes what success looks like to your institution. Your vision is your destination. The sole purpose of the strategic plan is to help you accomplish your vision.
A clear vision lessens internal debate and helps the institution focus its resources and energy. John Kotter calls this “clearing the decks of expensive and time-consuming clutter.” Less time will be expended on debating what to do, how to do it, and why, and more time can be devoted simply to getting on with the institution’s business.
There you have it. Three simple documents that will lay the foundation for extraordinary success.
 Vision-Centric Strategic Planning for Colleges and Universities: A Thoughtful Guide to Strategy Formation and Execution. It is due out March 31 and is available from Strategypublishing.com.