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Mission, Vision and Strategy have become buzzwords in business and unfortunately to some they may sound more like consultant speak than truly useful business concepts. To the contrary, these are practical tools for piloting a company forward and measuring its progress. Best of all, you need not be among the Fortune 500 to use them; these tools are within the grasp of any size company.

Additionally, there may be some blurring of the lines in peoples minds as to what each of these things are, so perhaps it is best to start with a bit of simple definition.

Mission is the overall purpose of the company. It should not change over a long period of time (although it may change due to a radical alteration in the company such as sale of a significant division or some kind of merger and acquisition). Mission works best when it is lofty, meaningful and big picture. People who work for you will want to get up in the morning and go to work for your mission.

Vision is the picture of where you want your company to be at some point in the future. You can pick the time for the Vision to be realized but it should be sufficiently far that you can still see it – and sufficiently near that people will be spurred into action and can measure progress towards it. It should be somewhat aspirational in nature so that people will need to stretch to get there, but it shouldnt be the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, or it loses complete credibility. It should be sufficiently measurable so that everyone will know when you have achieved it.

Strategy is the means by which you will achieve the Vision. It is a series of choices about what you will do and what you wont do. Each strand of the Strategy (and the associated action plans) will ultimately add up to achieving the Vision.

If you are wondering about the timeline for these concepts, my advice is to have a Mission which feels right for the foreseeable future (say 10 to 15 years), a Vision to be reached in five years, and a Strategy which runs for three years and against which you should review progress annually.

Mission and Vision should really start right at the top of the company, whether that is your owner or your CEO or your top management team. Depending on your corporate structure, you are likely to want to discuss them with your Board of Directors to get buy-in.

Once Mission and Vision are set, you need to determine the Strategy going forward. Several different strategies are likely possible to achieve the Vision, with different amounts of resourcing required, and with different likelihoods of success. One critically important step is to really think about these different strategies and evaluate them; in my experience, people often gravitate immediately to a single strategy without assessing the other options that exist. For this step, it is beneficial to get out of the box and invite some creative thinkers to any brainstorming sessions about strategy.

Evaluating your Strategy also requires thinking about whether any one strategy is more robust against different business environments than another. For example, if the Vision is to double profits, you may weigh various strategies to gain new customers, to roll out new products, to acquire another company, or to do some of these in conjunction with cost reduction. Ask yourself: Which of these paths is most robust against a change in competitive or economic environment? This kind of thinking and evaluation should lead you to choose a particular strategy and then put in place a more detailed set of actions aligned with it.

Two things to ensure as you proceed:

1) Communicate the strategy widely in a simple and clear way.

2) Put together a resourcing plan (people, budget, timetables, milestones) to guide you and keep you focused.

There are pitfalls to watch for in this process. One pitfall is not involving key people in the process, and thereby failing to get enough buy-in and support for the Mission/Vision/Strategy.

If your company has an open culture in which people regularly speak their minds, then the key thing is to provide some means to elicit feedback. This could be in the form of a town hall meeting or via smaller group meetings or one-on-one discussions. There may be valid challenges to the strategy which you need to evaluate and respond to in some way in order to move forward.

What is worse is if you have a culture where people fail to speak up and tell you about their concerns, because these concerns are unlikely to go away and could undermine your ability to achieve the strategy. In such a culture, you may want to do anonymous surveys in order to get input. Be sure as well that you provide feedback to the surveyed group on the input received and how it will be used.

It is important as you move forward with the Strategy to keep it really simple so that people remember it. It is also important to gather some stories from various areas of the company that demonstrate clearly how the strategy is working. Posters and signs can be helpful, as can newsletters and regular presentations. Dont forget to align performance appraisals, remuneration decisions, and people selection decisions with success in implementing the Strategy and achieving the Vision.

Putting in place your company Mission, Vision and Strategy should be motivating, exciting – and ultimately profitable as well!

Guest columnist Sara Lefcourt is an industry consultant who specializes in helping companies of any size to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years working in marketing, sales and procurement, first in the refining area for Exxon and then in the additives business at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. E-mail her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

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