The Ultimate Way to Align Your Vision Mission Purpose

What’s the difference between vision mission and purpose? And most importantly, what’s the best way to align them to drive your success?

Vision, mission and purpose statements can look and sound the same. But that’s like saying a pen, pencil and a marker are all the same. Yes, you can draw with all of them. But each of them has a special quality that lets you uniquely do something. Knowing which one to use at the right time makes all the difference to the results you produce.

Let’s take a look at Vision Mission and Purpose. We’ll look at how they are similar but also how they are different. And most importantly, we’ll look at the ultimate way to align them so you can be more successful sooner with less effort. And you can use these same principles for your personal vision mission and purpose as well as in business.

What is a Vision, Mission, Purpose?

Let’s check the dictionary to find out the meaning of each of these words.

  • Vision = A mental image of what the future will look like.
  • Mission = An important assignment or a strongly felt aim, ambition or goal.
  • Purpose = The reason for doing something or an intended aim or goal.

The vision dictionary definition is clear. It’s what you want the future to look like. However, the definitions of mission and purpose are not so clear. A Mission is an important assignment – but also a goal. A Purpose is the reason to do something, but also a goal.

What is a Vision, Mission, Purpose? Part 2

To clarify this, let’s fire up Chat GPT and see what we get.

  • What is a vision? This is similar to our dictionary definition – “a picture of what one wants in the future”. I’m happy with that.
  • Now what is a mission? This gets a little confusing for me. It says a mission is a reason for existing. I suppose it can be but that’s also what a purpose is. It also says a mission defines what you want to achieve. I like that bit.
  • And what is a purpose? A purpose is the reason for acting or the underlying intention.

Why Aligning your Vision Mission Purpose is hard

Too much overlapCan you see why aligning your vision, mission, and purpose is so hard?

It’s because you’re not clear on what each one means. We use different words for the same meaning.

And ChatGPT highlights this. It has collected all this information from thousands of websites across the internet and it still can’t show a clear difference. I talked about this in the previous post on the dirty big difference between a vision and a mission. It’s dirty because it’s messy and there is too much overlap in the way people talk about vision, mission and purpose. It’s okay to have some overlap. But when there is too much overlap all the colours blur into one and you lose contrast. That’s like painting. When you add too many colours everything turns into a muddy grey or brown.

How to Align Your Vision Mission Purpose

So how do we resolve this?

The key is to define vision, mission and purpose in more distinct ways – so there is less overlap and more difference. If we define vision mission and purpose in the following way then the alignment to each of them is much easier.

What is a Vision?

Your vision is how you want the world to be. Therefore, to write a strong vision statement simply describe how you want the world to be.

Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech is a great example. It’s both broad and specific.

  • Source: The Oregon History Project

    Here’s a broad example: ”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” While this is a desirable goal, it’s also a motherhood statement. It’s nice to have but almost impossible to define and police.

  • And here’s a more specific example: ”We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: for whites only.” It’s specific because we can see an image of such a sign and we can do something specific about this – outlaw racist signs.

Typically, a vision focuses on broad and general descriptions.

What is a Mission?

Your mission is the specific result you want to produce.

The two keywords are specific and result. This is why MLK’s speech is a vision and not a mission. There is no specific result to produce. It’s a general statement of how he would like the world to be.

In contrast, JFK’s declaration to send a man to the moon is a clear mission: “…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” (Source NASA)

It’s a specific outcome that could and was achieved. It wasn’t a vision because he focused on something specific.

One way to distinguish between a vision and a mission is to say a mission can be achieved. But a vision cannot. Instead, it’s a direction to head.

What is a Purpose?

Your purpose is your reason for doing something. In business, a purpose is often defined as your reason for existing. That’s fine if you are a startup opening your doors for the first time. But it can cause trouble when you try to bolt this on to an existing organisation later because of mixed meanings. A simple way to think about purpose is ‘why’ – why are you doing this?

Best definitions for Vision Mission Purpose

Three Clear Definitions

Let’s repeat those definitions to make it clear.

  • Vision = how you want the world to be.
  • Mission = the specific result you want to produce.
  • Purpose = your reason for doing it.

How to Align Vision Mission Purpose – Part 2

Now for the big question: how do we align them?

You want to align our vision mission and purpose so you can focus your actions and get better results with left effort. Especially, if you have a team.

The key to alignment is to create and use these tools in the right order.

  1. Start with purpose. What is your reason for taking action?
  2. Then focus on your vision. If you were acting in line with your purpose, then how would the world look?
  3. Finally, your mission. If you want the world to look that way, what result or outcome would you need to produce?

How to Align Your Vision Mission Purpose

My Personal Example

Here’s my personal example. My purpose is to create new worlds through sharing ideas. That’s what inspires me to take action. My vision is to start, spread and lead conversations. When I share my book or videos, I want people to consider my ideas and adapt and use them. Specifically, I can see people at events, giving me feedback and engaging with my content online. My mission on YouTube is to attract one million views. This is how I can measure the impact I am having in building my vision.

How to Check for Alignment

Now, let’s do an alignment check. The best way to do this is to work backwards.

  • Start with your mission. Does your mission create a world consistent with your vision?
  • Then your vision. Does your vision build a world that is consistent with your purpose?

Finally, to make something happen you need to follow the four levels of purpose. You need to turn your vision mission and purpose into a project so you can focus on something specific. Then build habits to align your actions within those projects.

More on Vision Mission Purpose

If you want more inspiration and insight on vision mission and purpose then check out these three posts next:

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