- Determine what mission and vision mean for you.
- Develop some guidelines for developing your mission and vision.
Mission and vision are concepts that can be applied to you, personally, well beyond their broader relevance to the P-O-L-C framework. Personal mission and vision communicate the direction in which you are headed, as well as providing some explanation for why you are choosing one direction or set of objectives over others. Thinking about and writing down mission and vision statements for your life can help provide you with a compass as you work toward your own goals and objectives.
Your Mission and Vision
Note that the development of a personal mission and vision, and then a strategy for achieving them, are exactly the opposite of what most people follow. Most people do not plan further ahead than their next job or activity (if they plan their career at all). They take a job because it looks attractive, and then they see what they can do with it. We advocate looking as far into the future as you can and deciding where you want to end up and what steps will lead you there. In that way, your life and your career fit into some intelligent plan, and you are in control of your own life.
The first step in planning a career is obviously a long-term goal. Where do you want to end up, ultimately? Do you really want to be a CEO or president of the United States, now that you know what it costs to be either one? There are a couple basic parts to this process.
First, set out a bold vision—Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, describes this as a BHAG a big, hairy, audacious goal.
Five guiding criteria for good BHAGs is that they:
- Are set with understanding, not bravado.
- Fit squarely in the three circles of (a) what you are deeply passionate about (including your core values and purpose), (b) what drives your economic logic, and (c) what differentiates you (what you can be the best in the world at).
- Have a long time frame—10 to 30 years.
- Are clear, compelling, and easy to grasp.
- Directly reflect your core values and core purpose.
Second, sketch out your personal values, or “Guiding Philosophy”—a set of core values and principles like your own Declaration of Independence.
Once the vision is set, you have to develop some long-term goal (or goals), then intermediate-term goals, and so on. If you want to be President, what jobs will you have to take first to get there and when do you have to get these jobs? Where should you live? What training do you need? What political connections do you need? Then you have to set up an orderly plan for obtaining the connections and training that you need and getting into these steppingstone jobs.
Finally, you need to establish short-term goals to fit clearly into a coherent plan for your entire career. Your next job (if you are now a fairly young person) should be picked not only for its salary or for its opportunities for advancement but for its chances to provide you with the training and connections you need to reach your long-term goals. The job that is superficially attractive to you because it has a high salary, offers the opportunity for immediate advancement, or is located in a desirable place may be a mistake from the standpoint of your long-term career.
Former business school professor, entrepreneur (founder of www.quintcareers.com), and colleague Randall S. Hansen, PhD, has done a masterful job of assembling resources that aim to help your career, including an excellent five-step plan for creating personal mission statements. With his generous permission, he has allowed us to reproduce his five-step plan—adapted by us to encompass both mission and vision—in this section.
The Five-Step Plan
A large percentage of companies, including most of the Fortune 500, have corporate mission and vision statements (Quint Careers, 2008). Mission and vision statements are designed to provide direction and thrust to an organization, an enduring statement of purpose. A mission and vision statement act as an invisible hand that guides the people in the organization. A mission and vision statement explains the organization’s reason for being and answers the question, “What business are we in?”
A personal mission and vision statement is a bit different from a company mission statement, but the fundamental principles are the same. Writing a personal mission and vision statement offers the opportunity to establish what’s important and perhaps make a decision to stick to it before we even start a career. Or it enables us to chart a new course when we’re at a career crossroads. Steven Covey (in First Things First) refers to developing a mission and vision statement as “connecting with your own unique purpose and the profound satisfaction that comes from fulfilling it (Covey, 1994).”
A personal mission and vision statement helps job seekers identify their core values and beliefs. Michael Goodman (in The Potato Chip Difference: How to Apply Leading Edge Marketing Strategies to Landing the Job You Want) states that a personal mission statement is “an articulation of what you’re all about and what success looks like to you (Goodman, 2001).” A personal mission and vision statement also allows job seekers to identify companies that have similar values and beliefs and helps them better assess the costs and benefits of any new career opportunity.
The biggest problem most job seekers face is not in wanting to have a personal mission and vision statement but actually writing it. So, to help you get started on your personal mission and vision statement, here is a five-step mission/vision-building process. Take as much time on each step as you need, and remember to dig deeply to develop a mission and vision statement that is both authentic and honest. To help you better see the process, Professor Hansen included an example of one friend’s process in developing her mission and vision statements.
Sample Personal Mission Statement Development
- developed new product features for stagnant product
- part of team that developed new positioning statement for product
- helped child’s school with fundraiser that was wildly successful
- increased turnout for the opening of a new local theater company
Themes: Successes all relate to creative problem solving and execution of a solution.
- Hard working
- Problem solving
- Decision maker
Most important values:
- Problem solving
- Decision maker
Most important value:
- the world in general: develop products and services that help people achieve what they want in life. To have a lasting effect on the way people live their lives.
- my family: to be a leader in terms of personal outlook, compassion for others, and maintaining an ethical code; to be a good mother and a loving wife; to leave the world a better place for my children and their children.
- my employer or future employers: to lead by example and demonstrate how innovative and problem-solving products can be both successful in terms of solving a problem and successful in terms of profitability and revenue generation for the organization.
- my friends: to always have a hand held out for my friends; for them to know they can always come to me with any problem.
- my community: to use my talents in such a way as to give back to my community.
Short term: To continue my career with a progressive employer that allows me to use my skills, talent, and values to achieve success for the firm.
Long term: To develop other outlets for my talents and develop a longer-term plan for diversifying my life and achieving both professional and personal success.
To live life completely, honestly, and compassionately, with a healthy dose of realism mixed with the imagination and dreams that all things are possible if one sets their mind to finding an answer.
To be the CEO of a firm that I start, that provides educational exercise experiences to K–6 schools. My company will improve children’s health and fitness, and create a lasting positive impact on their lives, and that of their children.
Step 1: Identify Past Successes. Spend some time identifying four or five examples where you have had personal success in recent years. These successes could be at work, in your community, or at home. Write them down. Try to identify whether there is a common theme—or themes—to these examples. Write them down.
Step 2: Identify Core Values. Develop a list of attributes that you believe identify who you are and what your priorities are. The list can be as long as you need. Once your list is complete, see whether you can narrow your values to five or six most important values. Finally, see whether you can choose the one value that is most important to you. We’ve added “Generating Ideas for Your Mission and Vision” to help jog your memory and brainstorm about what you do well and really like to do.
Step 3: Identify Contributions. Make a list of the ways you could make a difference. In an ideal situation, how could you contribute best to:
- the world in general
- your family
- your employer or future employers
- your friends
- your community
Generating Ideas for Your Mission and Vision
A useful mission and vision statement should include two pieces: what you wish to accomplish and contribute and who you want to be, the character strengths and qualities you wish to develop. While this sounds simple, those pieces of information are not always obvious. Try these tools for generating valuable information about yourself.
- Describe your ideal day. This is not about being practical. It is designed to include as many sides of you and your enthusiasms as possible: creative, competent, artistic, introverted, extraverted, athletic, playful, nurturing, contemplative, and so on.
- Imagine yourself 132 years old and surrounded by your descendants or those descendants of your friends. You are in a warm and relaxed atmosphere (such as around a fireplace). What would you say to them about what is important in life? This exercise is designed to access the values and principles that guide your life.
- Imagine that it is your 70th birthday (or another milestone in your life). You have been asked by national print media to write a press release about your achievements. Consider what you would want your family, friends, coworkers in your profession and in your community to say about you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives? How do you want to be remembered? This is designed to inventory your actions and accomplishments in all areas of your life.
Review your notes for these three exercises. With those responses in mind, reflect on questions 1, 2, and 3 above. Then write a rough draft (a page of any length) of your mission statement. Remember that it should describe what you want to do and who you want to be. This is not a job description. Carry it with you, post copies in visible places at home and work, and revise and evaluate. Be patient with yourself. The process is as important as the outcome. After a few weeks, write another draft. Ask yourself whether your statement was based on proven principles that you believe in, if you feel direction, motivation, and inspiration when you read it. Over time, reviewing and evaluating will keep you abreast of your own development.
Step 4: Identify Goals. Spend some time thinking about your priorities in life and the goals you have for yourself. Make a list of your personal goals, perhaps in the short term (up to three years) and the long term (beyond three years).
Step 5: Write Mission and Vision Statements. On the basis of the first four steps and a better understanding of yourself, begin writing your personal mission and vision statements.
Final thoughts: A personal mission and vision statement is, of course, personal. But if you want to see whether you have been honest in developing your personal mission and vision statement, we suggest sharing the results of this process with one or more people who are close to you. Ask for their feedback. Finally, remember that mission and vision statements are not meant to be written once and blasted into stone. You should set aside some time annually to review your career, job, goals, and mission and vision statements—and make adjustments as necessary.
In this section, you learned how to think of mission and vision in terms of your personal circumstances, whether it is your career or other aspects of your life. Just as you might do in developing an organization’s vision statement, you were encouraged to think of a big, hairy audacious goal as a starting point. You also learned a five-step process for developing a personal vision statement.
- How does a personal mission and vision statement differ from one created for an organization?
- What time period should a personal mission and vision statement cover?
- What are the five steps for creating a personal mission and vision statement?
- What type of goals should you start thinking about in creating a personal mission and vision?
- How are your strengths and weaknesses relevant to mission and vision?
- What stakeholders seem relevant to your personal mission and vision?
Covey, S. R. (1994). First Things First. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Goodman, M. (2001). The Potato Chip Difference. New York: Dialogue Press.
Quint Careers, retrieved October 29, 2008, from http://www.quintcareers.com/creating_personal_mission_statements.html. Reproduced and adapted with written permission from Randall S. Hansen. The content of this work is his, and any errors or omissions are our responsibility.