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Mission, vision and values: three words with big meaning. While often used interchangeably, these concepts each serve a distinct purpose and are a vital part of an organization’s foundation. Read on to learn the difference between the three, the role HR professionals play in developing what a company stands for and how to communicate the mission, vision and values to the organization.

What Are the Mission, Vision and Values of a Company? How Are They Different?

You may see a company’s mission, vision and values on a website or social media page or hear about them on a TV commercial. But what do these terms really mean? These are important foundational concepts, but they’re commonly misunderstood.

Before anything else, it’s important to understand the overarching purpose of creating a company mission, vision, and values. In his TED talk, Simon Sinek makes a bold statement: “People do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” You can sell new products, new technologies, or new ideas, but if you haven’t defined your why, you will have a hard time convincing anyone to buy from you. Creating and referring to your mission, vision, and values will help you define your why and guide your business toward success.

Now, we’ll define these key terms in more detail, looking at real examples from Ulta Beauty to bring these concepts to life. You’ll see in these examples how mission, vision and values can — and should — go hand in hand.

Mission

Mission is a company’s reason for being, the purpose it serves and the value it provides to its audience or stakeholders. It also articulates why the company is different and how it positions itself in the market.

Example 1: Mission

Let’s look at Ulta Beauty’s mission statement:

Every day, we use the power of beauty to bring to life the possibilities that lie within each of us — inspiring every guest and enabling each associate to build a fulfilling career.

This statement explains Ulta Beauty’s reason for existence and who its audiences are. It describes what the company does today and who it serves. In this case, Ulta’s not limiting their stakeholders to its customers (i.e., guests). They’re also harnessing the power of beauty to provide value to their employees in their careers.

When it comes to your company’s mission, remember that you don’t necessarily have to talk about what you do. In the example above, Ulta Beauty doesn’t just say, “We sell makeup and other beauty products.” They think outside the box to get at their core purpose. Here are a few examples from other companies that demonstrate the difference between the what and the why:

  • Ikea
    • What they do: Make affordable, easy-to-transport furniture
    • Why they do it (Mission statement): “To create a better everyday life for many people.”
  • TED
    • What they do: Organize conferences, create videos, and produce written and visual content
    • Why they do it (Mission statement): “Spread ideas.”
  • Life is Good
    • What they do: Create and sell clothing for men, women, and children
    • Why they do it (Mission statement): “Spread the power of optimism.”
  • Walmart 
    • What they do: Sell goods and groceries in physical stores and online
    • Why they do it (Mission statement): “We save people money so they can live better lives.”

Vision

Vision is what a company strives to be in the future, not where it is today. This is an aspirational, broader, future statement. Vision is intended to be motivating, inspirational, and forward-thinking and may even evoke emotion.

Example 2: Vision

Continuing with our example, Ulta Beauty’s vision is:
To be the most loved beauty destination of our guests and the most admired retailer by our Ulta Beauty associates, communities, partners and investors.
Here, Ulta Beauty is looking ahead to the company they want to be and how they wish to be perceived by their stakeholders.

Core Values

Core values are the most important principles to an organization, a compass that guides the way. Values are a company’s current and future ethics and expected behaviors.

Once you have a vision of the future, you’re ready to consider the guiding principles you’ll follow to get you to your destination. Will you be a company that puts more emphasis on people or profits? Will company decisions be made after long, deliberate discussion, or would you rather borrow the Facebook approach of “move fast and break things?”

Values can be used to create a certain image for your company. Think about brands you like. For example, is there a particular hotel chain you prefer over others? Consider why that is. It may be because of the quality of accommodations, but perhaps it’s because of the positive service experience provided to you each time you visit. If that’s the case, it’s most likely because of the core values instilled in the company’s employees that results in an outstanding experience for you, the consumer.

Defining your company values will allow you and your team to understand what’s expected (and maybe more importantly, what’s rewarded) within the walls of your organization. They’ll help you make decisions when faced with opposing alternatives. They’ll guide your thinking as you build your product. They’ll shine a light on what’s important.

As you develop your list of company values, you’ll be tempted to include a lot of different attributes. While this is a good desire, it’ll be impossible for you or your employees to focus on a long list. Try to narrow your list of values/principles to 4-7 items.

Example 3: Values

Finally, concluding with our example, Ulta Beauty’s values are the following:

We work toward our vision and mission with our values at the heart of everything we do.

Give wow experiences, improve always, win together, love what you do/own what you do, do what’s right, and champion diversity.

Ulta’s values define expectations for their associates’ behaviors and culture, but there’s an element of the future here, too, which ties into their vision.

Why You Need To Define Your Company’s Mission, Vision and Values

Defining a company’s mission, vision and values informs the strategic planning process. Mission, vision and values embody who a company is and what it stands for. These foundational attributes are at the heart of the organization — defining its purpose, charting its direction for the future and describing expectations for ethics and behavior. The best statements are unique and concise. They should be clear statements, not paragraphs.

Once a company defines their mission, vision, and values, then they can determine their strategic objectives and goals in pursuit of the mission. Strategic imperatives and objectives should always be tied to an organization’s mission and aligned with its vision and values to ensure the company is focused on the right business activities.

How To Decide What Your Company Stands For

To decide what your company stands for, you’ll need to determine what success will look like in the long term. Then, you can ask yourself several key questions to help you figure out what your mission, vision, and values should be.

Defining Success

In the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey asks readers to “begin with the end in mind.” This powerful exercise of envisioning the end of the journey at the beginning allows you to determine what a successful outcome will look like. Defining success at the beginning of your company’s journey can be critical to its performance. 

One example of defining success early on comes from Jason Fried and David Heninemeir Hansson, the founders of the software company Basecamp. Something that’s unique about Basecamp is they’ve taken almost zero venture funding (rare for software companies), and the price of their software is considered by some to be comically low. 

Many “experts” looking in from the outside might assume that Jason and David are not great founders because they don’t know how to price their software or because they haven’t invested money into growth marketing. But Jason and David didn’t start Basecamp to raise a bunch of cash, grow it to a billion dollars, and then sell it. Instead, they are deeply centered on having an innovative, sustainable, profitable business that is calm, human-centric, and pleasant to work at. This purpose drives all their business decisions and has helped them achieve their version of success.

When you define what success will look like for your own company, you’ll set yourself up to develop a strong sense of purpose, a clear roadmap of the future, and a succinct set of guiding principles.

Asking Important Questions

Once you’ve figured out what success will look like, you can start thinking about what will help you get there. When defining mission, vision and values, here are a few questions that companies may ask themselves:

  • Mission: What do we do today? Where have we been as a company? What product or service do we offer? How do we offer our products or services? What value do we create? Who do we serve (i.e., who are our stakeholders)? How are we different from our competitors?
  • Vision: Who do we want to be in the future? What does our business look like 10, 50 or 100 years from now? Who are our key stakeholders? What kind of image do we wish to have? How aggressive are our goals?
  • Values: What principles are most important to us when running our business? How do we wish to treat our customers, employees and shareholders? What behaviors and/or ethics are non-negotiables for us and should always be upheld?

HR’s Role in Mission, Vision and Values

HR plays a significant role in mission, vision and values in three ways: development, communication and leading by example.

Role 1: Development

Due to HR’s role and pulse on the organization, HR will most likely be part of the core team along with senior leadership who develops and defines a company’s mission, vision and values. The team will do this by seeking input from employees, customers and other key stakeholders. HR may also be involved in refreshing these concepts, as mission, vision and values could be reviewed as companies evolve and set new goals to achieve.

Role 2: Communication

HR is tasked with ensuring employees understand and can articulate the company’s mission, vision and values through clear employee communication. Read the section below for tips on how to accomplish this.

Role 3: Leading by Example

HR professionals should lead by example by demonstrating ethical actions and behaviors on how to live out the mission, seek the vision and, most importantly, model core values for their peers.

Tips for Sharing the Mission, Vision and Values With the Rest of the Company

Since HR professionals are responsible for communicating a company’s mission, vision and values within your organization and beyond, here are a few tips to help you through this process.

  • Develop an internal communication plan. Work with your corporate communications, corporate strategy and marketing teams to develop communication goals and straightforward key messages.
  • Determine which communication methods are best for your organization. Examples of communication methods include emails, all-employee meetings, staff and team meetings, company intranet, videos of employees talking about what the mission, vision and values mean to them, social media, blogs, lobby TV slides, posters and more.
  • Don’t forget about your external audiences. Be sure to incorporate mission, vision and values messaging into your hiring processes and channels such as the company’s careers webpage. What a company stands for is a major part of its employer brand. This is a prime opportunity to make a positive first impression on your candidates and showcase what your company is about, which can be a factor in attracting top talent.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Mission, Vision and Values

Mission comes first. Mission establishes an organization’s purpose and reason for being. Vision usually comes next, then values.

No! They are only outdated if they are ignored. Mission and vision statements should be reviewed annually during the planning process and reinforced to the company on an ongoing basis.

Lesley is a marketing and HR leader at an independent insurance wholesale broker and managing general agent. Lesley has 15+ years of insurance experience. She holds a master’s degree in business management and is SHRM-CP certified.

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