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Discussion 2 Mission and Vision


Missions, Visions, and Other Guiding Stars .

having understood something of the historical development of the organization you are studying, that is, how it evolved through the past to today, you will seek next to understand and evaluate the “guiding stars” by which it navigates the present on its journey into new futures. The guiding stars of an organization say: “This is who we are, this is what we do, and this is where we are headed” (Scholtes, 1998, p. 173). Like navigators of old, these “stars” help the organization identify where it is and set a course toward where it hopes to go.

Guiding stars come in a variety of types and forms. Some organizations state them explicitly, and may even label them as “mission” or “vision” or “values.” Sometimes they are presented in text form; other times they appear as diagrams or illustrations. Some organizations are more subtle in revealing their guiding stars. They probably won’t be labeled on the organization web site, and you won’t get any results if you attempt a web search. But, they will tend to be repeated in a variety of places, and they will fit the definitions of the more common types of guiding stars, such as those of mission, vision, and values statements. In these latter cases, you will have to look a bit harder to discover the guiding stars.

There is the occasional organization that appears to have no guiding stars whatsoever, either because their guiding stars are implicit or tacit in the understanding of founders and managers, or because they choose not to reveal them for competitive reasons, or simply because of poor leadership and management. But the guiding stars are there in some way or another, even if only implicitly as a pattern in the behaviors of the organization. You may need to infer the mission and vision of the organization from their statements and pattern of behaviors. The more you read of the literature produced by the organization, the more common themes will emerge, showing how the organization defines itself, what it is striving toward in the future, and what it values.


Follow the steps below, using library databases and other reputable sources, to gain an understanding of the statements that guide the work of the organization. Each student should share the documents, data, and information they collect with the group. Make and share observations about what you and others have found. Be certain to provide an APA-format reference for each source you add to your group database. When you refer to any information from your source in your responses to the questions below, whether as a direct quote or in paraphrase, be sure to also include an APA-format, in-text citation to the source within the sentence that uses that information.

Step 1: How does the organization define itself? In their excellent chapter on business definition, Duhaime, Stimpert, and Chesley (2012) say: “Definition is the way a firm or a business describes itself to employees, customers, and other constituencies while also distinguishing it from other business organizations that may or may not be competitors” (p. 121). This kind of definition gives an organization an identity that is enduring. The same authors go on to say: “Business definition is strategy content in that…it describes which customers the firm or business will servewhat products or services the firm or business will offerand what technologies the firm or business will employBut business definition is also a strategy process—the process by which firms and businesses select positions in their industry environments” (pp. 121-122, emphasis added).

Step 2: What types of guiding stars does the organization have? Conduct research to see if they have a statement of values, a purpose statement, a statement of operating principles, and of course, a mission statement and a vision statement. Are there any other broad statements that accomplish the same or similar purpose as these? If the organization has more than one of these statements of strategic intent, how do they appear to relate to one another and to work together systemically? What do each of these statements tell you about the organization? Does the organization appear to be proactive or reactive in regard to its industry and the external environment? (As noted in the introduction to this session, you may have to “read between the lines” to find evidence of the guiding stars! Don’t give up after a mere website search of the terms “mission” and “vision.” You will actually need to read the materials you gathered in Session 1, and possibly, gather and read additional sources.)

Step 3: Start this step by repeating the mission statement you identified in Step 2. If you were unable to find a mission statement, draft a mission statement for the organization based on your understanding of it thus far. In addition to your draft mission statement, discuss what you believe what its rationale may be for not articulating a mission.

Now evaluate the mission statement with respect to the following:

a) Difference.

The mission statement explains what business the organization is in, that is, what it is and what it does today. The mission statement should clarify generally how the organization differs from other organizations in the larger environment or market and how it adds value (Williamson, 1981).

The mission statement should indicate the value-creating domain the organization participates in and how it participates, that is, what role it has in the larger market system; it should describe what difference its existence makes to the context it functions in (Normann, 2001).

Describe, analyze, and evaluate the mission statement from this “difference” perspective.

b) Components.

Fred David’s (2007) research suggests a good mission statement should address nine components: its customers, its products and services, its markets (by country, region, etc.), its technological currency, its commitment to “growth and financial soundness,” its “beliefs, values, aspirations, and ethical priorities,” its “distinctive competences” and “major competitive advantage,” its responsiveness to “social, community, and environmental concerns,” and its human resources (p. 51).

Describe, analyze, and evaluate the mission statement from this “components” perspective.

c) Progress.

The mission statement tells you what the organization is and does today. And, at least implicit or logically within the mission statement, you should also gain some sense of how executing on its mission statement will help it close the gap between what it is and does today, and what it wants to be and do tomorrow (Normann, 2001).

Describe, analyze, and evaluate the mission statement from this “progress” perspective.

Step 4: Start this step by repeating the vision statement you found in Step 2. If you were unable to find a vision statement, draft a vision statement for the organization based on your understanding of it thus far. In addition to your draft vision statement, discuss what you believe what its rationale may be for not articulating a vision.

Now evaluate the vision statement:

A vision implies a gap between an imagined future state and the present. A good organizational vision describes a) what the organization wants to become in the future as a result of effectively executing on its mission, and b) how in the future the organization would like the larger, external environment to change, or to become better, as a result of effectively executing on its mission (Normann, 2001).

Describe, analyze, and evaluate the vision statement from this perspective.

Step 5: Having “guiding stars,” and truly navigating by them, are two very different things. This may be one of the most insightful steps of your study!

Seek out sources that provide evidence of the organization’s behaviors and track record. Does the evidence suggest that the organization has real commitment to its guiding stars? Or does the evidence suggest that the guiding stars are merely words that the organization feels it needs to create and communicate?

Step 6: Peter Senge (2006) says: “A shared vision is not an idea… It is, rather, a force in people’s hearts, a force of impressive power… Few, if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared vision…one of the reasons people seek to build shared visions is their desire to be connected in an important undertaking… A shared vision…uplifts people’s aspirations” (pp. 192-193).

Visions of the future that are inwardly embraced and shared by the employees and stakeholders of an organization make the gaps visible between the present and the desired future; these gaps create tensions, which cause visions to become powerful



“attractors” and “self-fulfilling prophecies” that create purposeful, collective action to bring the abstract, desired future into concrete, manifested present reality (Normann, 2001).

Seek out sources that provide evidence that the vision and other guiding stars of the organization are shared by the employees and that they serve as powerful “attractors,” motivating employees to work and strive toward achieving the vision, even when not commanded, directed, or supervised. (Note: If there are individuals in your study group who work for the organization, or who work within the same industry, they should be able to provide particularly valuable insights here!)

What does the evidence you found suggest about the long-term prospects of the organization?

Step 7: Reflecting on your investigation and evaluation above, are there inconsistencies among the mission, vision, and other guiding stars of your organization? What changes might you make to the mission, vision, and other guiding stars as a result?

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