Photo from wikimedia

Mission? Vision? Values? Forget It.

Photo from wikimedia
Share the

Why Give a Damn:

Cut the jargon used to describe businesses today. Read this and learn to focus on finding the words that will not only capture your passion, but also set it free.


The author of this post, Cheryl Heller, designs change and growth for business leaders and social entrepreneurs. She is Founding Chair of MFA Design for Social Innovation at SVA.

You don’t need to capture your business idea in a single declarative statement.  Tweet This Quote

“Rinse and re-use” should not apply to something as important as the expression of your enterprise and its future.

One common misconception among entrepreneurs is the belief (because they’re told repeatedly) that they need to capture their business idea – however radical – in the structured and declarative statements called mission, vision and values. I know this, because I used to tell clients the same thing.

Some years ago, I went to Cairo to lead a three-day workshop for Egyptian entrepreneurs, and included the glossary below as a way to shed light on the confusion around the many forms these elements can take. I share these definitions in the same spirit with which people admit to a time in their lives when they didn’t recycle.

Mission: Why you exist, your organization’s purpose in life.

Vision: Where you want to take the company, what you want to accomplish, how you want to impact the marketplace.

Goals/Objectives: The specific, detailed accomplishments that are necessary in order to make your vision a reality.

Value Proposition: The core benefit that you offer clients, partners, etc. Can change with each customer segment.

Positioning: The underlying platform for marketing and communications. It distinguishes a company from the competition by articulating unique strengths and values.

Strategy: The creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.

Character: The personality of your company. Defines the experience that a customer or employee will have with it.

Elevator Pitch: Fast answer to the question: “Who are you?”

Tagline: Evocative, creative, emotional shorthand for your mission or elevator pitch…depends on communications need and context. Frequently change every few years.

Make sense? I hope not.

First of all, there are just too many pieces – crowded footprints from thousands of marketing consultants making themselves important by inventing new paths to follow.

Second, these are the prescriptions that served the old industrial age model and made it the mechanical monster it is today. Strict rules about what and how to speak shave off all the rough edges that make ideas interesting and audible to us. It’s as if all the worn structures and tired jargon can’t get traction in our brains, and move through them without penetrating. The words for genuinely new ideas don’t exist anymore in corporate speak, if they ever did. It’s like trying to express yourself deeply in a language you don’t know.

By following a formula, we become formulaic, and that simply won’t work for an entrepreneur. New ideas need new words to express them – and if fresh, powerful words are not found they will not be heard, they will not become infectious, and they will never become reality.

The words for genuinely new ideas don’t exist anymore in corporate speak.  Tweet This Quote

What you need and should not leave home without is a promise – a clear, simple statement that explains what you will do, how it’s different, why it matters and to whom.

My definition of a promise is: The commitment that a business makes to each of the people who interact with it. It’s a promise that defines what is unique about the company, and what people will get for their money and their time, whether they are a customer, partner, investor or employee.

A promise is active. It’s what you commit to do and be. Once you make the promise, the behavior needed to make it true becomes obvious and actionable. It may be hard to trust this notion before you do it, but when you have it, all the decisions you need to make flow from it, in the most organic way.

One of the most famous examples is from the Ritz Carlton hotels: “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

This is a lesson in brevity. In seven words, it sets a standard that is known and can be measured. It says what they do, for whom, and how it’s different. It tells employees how they need to treat guests and it tells guests what they can expect in quality and service. And it doesn’t bother to say they’re in the hospitality business because that’s not what makes them unique.

Doing this well is neither easy nor simple.  Tweet This Quote

Doing this well is neither easy nor simple. Most of the time it requires the help of someone who can see you and what you want to do objectively. It’s easy for people to know what they’re good at, and what they are burning to accomplish, but extremely difficult for them to tell how they’re different from everybody else. And even harder to self-edit all the details that feel so important to include but in reality are just the stakes of whatever game you’re in.

However you get to it, if you find your own voice, and language that is meaningful to you, you will have a set of words that, like a poem, makes your heart beat faster, and gives your idea life for all to see. C.S. Lewis said, “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: Whereas if you simply try to tell the truth, you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” In my experience, entrepreneurs intuitively know this. They’re excited by the challenge of finding the words that will not only capture their passion, but also set it free.

It will. It’s true. I promise.

If you find your own voice and language, you will have a set of words that makes your heart beat faster, and gives your idea life.

Cheryl Heller

About the author

Cheryl Heller works with business leaders to transform organizations and industries – eliminating complexity, developing strategies and campaigns that energize communities and shift behavior. She has helped grow businesses...

Cheryl Heller has written 23 articles for UNREASONABLE.is

  • http://www.pitchily.com/ Nathan Young

    While I agree that brevity is powerful and there is an awful lot of moving pieces involved in the construction of a brand’s identity, I’d argue that the process of creating each one of those pieces is incredibly valuable to a new company as it forces you to think about what it is your company actually does from a variety of different angles and gets folks involved in creating a company culture early on.

    Good article though!

  • Brianna McTee

    This is a great post that gets you thinking about the best
    way to “sell” yourself or your company. We often find ourselves coming up with
    so much verbiage in order to attract people to our mission, values and beliefs.
    After reading Cheryl Heller’s post, brevity and speaking concisely about what
    you stand for, might be the biggest/best attention getter.

    I also like Cheryl’s example of the Ritz Carlton hotels
    verbiage: “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”, and how quickly
    it makes the point of what is important, what the Ritz Carlton does. After all,
    what the Ritz Carlton staff does is
    so much more than what the Ritz Carlton is.

  • pharkey

    This article makes a pretty good point. There are so many advertisements in today’s age, most of which do not stand out to the consumer. It’s important to be concise and informative. Most slogans that stand out are those that are catchy and essentially capture the value proposition of the company. Geico has also has a good one, “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance”

  • beekmane

    I agree Nathan, building each of the pieces helps to define the business from a variety of angles. Too many entrepreneurs are not focused about what the company actually does and where it is going.

    I bet Ritz Carlton found their short statement after years of developing the other pieces.

  • mhansen11

    Thank you for your article! I really liked how you talked about the promise and what it means to you. “My definition of a promise is: The commitment that a business makes to each of the people who interact with it. It’s a promise that defines what is unique about the company, and what people will get for their money and their time, whether they are a customer, partner, investor or employee.”
    That means a lot really. When you promise something, you are fully committing to make whatever it is happen and people are trusting you with that. You need that trust in each other to make anything work and be successful at it.

  • sappt

    I think this is a great point! I feel that when in applying for a job, or in an interview I have to do the same thing over and over. I have to say what the company wants to hers, and not really what i stand for. Saying who you are and what you stand for could be a huge attention grabber.

    I also like the example of the Ritz Carlton. When I stayed at one in Dallas, it was the best customer service I have ever had.

  • DuCharmeDR11

    I really like the example you give of the promise the Ritz Carlton hotels give, “Ladies and Gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” That lays out a clear image in my head of what the company stands for, in few words at that. I thought it was interesting how you gave the definitions of many terms that businesses find important today, and then went on to say not being able to understand those concepts was okay. I agree with you that we need to be creative and versatile in the way we present ourselves and businesses, but at the same time how can we measure success without clearly defined goals and missions? This article gives one a lot to consider!

  • Natalie

    I do agree with your point on how every business needs a “promise – a clear, simple statement that explains what you will do, how it’s different, why it matters and to whom.” However, I also believe that businesses do need a mission, vision, and values. These elements don’t necessarily limit new ideas; they provide a guideline or structure for your ideas. They also help you understand the bigger picture of your business to make sure your strategy is executable.

  • Dolly Chan

    I really like your point on having a “promise”, it is a simple and clear objective that should be made when new businesses start out. I believe that through extensive modifications and changes to their statements, Ritz Carlton was able to create the simple, yet powerful, statement. Although it is true that mission, vision, goals, ect. are tedious and seem to overlap, through addressing them directly you can really realize what is missing from your company.

  • Muhammad Afzal

    Yes, this whole theory worked, Business is not the things to deal as a constitution or disclaimer because dealing with clients, customers are making difficulties for businesses and companies,

    Web designing Lahore

  • Cathy Lee

    The example of Ritz Carlton’s statement is understandable and I appreciate the brevity and simplicity of their “promise.” Personally, the reason why I agree that this short statement easily sums up the company is because of the history and reputation behind the hotel. Ritz Carlton has been recognized worldwide for the past 100 years as a symbol of luxury, hospitality and service.

    However, for companies and start-ups that are just entering the market, their reputation is virtually nonexistent. How can they effectively get the message of their company across, while being brief? I feel that having a standard mission statement and value proposition to refer back to is helpful, not only for the company, but for customers as well so that they can gauge an understanding of the company culture. In conclusion, while a company such as Ritz Carlton can effectively deliver their promise in a concise manner, I am unconfident that other companies could also powerfully do so.

    Thanks for sharing this article!

  • Cathy Lee

    The example of Ritz Carlton’s statement is understandable and I appreciate the brevity and simplicity of their “promise.” Personally, the reason why I agree that this short statement easily sums up the company is because of the history and reputation behind the hotel. Ritz Carlton has been recognized worldwide for the past 100 years as a symbol of luxury, hospitality and service.

    However, for companies and start-ups that are just entering the market, their reputation is virtually nonexistent. How can they effectively get the message of their company across, while being brief? I feel that having a standard mission statement and value proposition to refer back to is helpful, not only for the company, but for customers as well so that they can gauge an understanding of the company culture. In conclusion, while a company such as Ritz Carlton can effectively deliver their promise in a concise manner, I am unconfident that other companies could also powerfully do so.

    Thanks for sharing this article!

  • Adelin Soelaiman

    I really like the author’s point of view about strict
    rules in business being outdated and the need for new ideas and originality. If
    your business makes a promise as a commitment to each of the people it
    interacts with, it will be defined as a unique intrepreneurship. And the
    uniqueness do help a company to become successful. Since everyone can follow
    standards and rules, it is almost an impossible mission to survive in the
    business world where all business are the same. So, originality is an engine of
    a successful business and it should never be put aside.

  • steffiangelina

    We have to have our own language to make mission, vision and values. If
    we can get our own voice and language that is meaningful to us, we will have a
    set of words that makes our heart beat faster, and gives our idea life for all
    to see. It is easy to make a statement about what we want to accomplish, but it
    is hard to make a statement about what differentiate us from others.

  • Nguyen

    Whenever I learn new things, I simplify and rephrase them in my own
    language. Thus, I could understand and remember them better. Personally, names
    and tittles do not describe intrinsic values of an object. Thus, I only care
    about what it is instead of what it is called. Heller brings all definitions prescribing
    a business to one word “promise.” A promise is the commitment that a business
    makes to each of the people who interact with it, such as investors, suppliers,
    and customers. It consists of characteristics of mission statement, value, and
    vision. I do believe that “less is more.”

  • helmm

    I completely agree, Cathy! Even if the formulaic language of a mission statement, vision, and value proposition can be constricting for businesses, they are essential for new businesses as a tool to clearly convey who they are to the business world. Sometimes being as brief as the Ritz Carlton doesn’t quite cut it when your goal is to explain a new brand to the general public. In addition to your point, Cathy, I would also add that the actual process of crafting a vision, mission statement, value proposition, etc. is helpful to new businesses as well. Thinking through all of the subtleties of the company’s competitive advantage, goals, and values will enable the owner/founder to have a clearer vision moving forward.

  • felicia ophira

    I agree with this article that we have to find our own voices and be original. The mission in a business is a promise that the we want to deliver to the customers but sometimes people are too engrossed with other things that they totally forget the purpose of the mission and the promise it wish to deliver. I think is important for people to stick on the promise so they could deliver what they envision to their customers, investors, and others.