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An Organizational Vision And Mission For A New World And Workplace: Part 1


Gregory P. Crawford is President of Miami University of Ohio.

The response to a global pandemic has elevated awareness of culture’s vital role in an organization’s success. Emerging generations were already challenging the outdated top-down, command-and-control structures. Instead, they seek greater work-life integration, input and respect for their personal and career goals.

Poor company culture is a major reason why good employees leave. At the heart of culture are an organization’s vision and mission. These declared principles and priorities are the organization’s commitment to its employees and external stakeholders. The statements — and living up to them — profoundly affect brand identity, employee satisfaction and consumer choice.

Organizations need a clear understanding of what a vision is, what a mission is, how they are distinct and how they complement one another. In my experience as an academic leader and university president, I have found a helpful starting point for fashioning those statements in clear and effective ways: Vision is the desired future, not only for the organization but also for the larger society, and mission is the organization’s particular role in bringing about that future. Such an approach elevates the common good, enriches meaning and purpose for each person in the organization and establishes a standard for the organization’s deliberations on its decisions and actions. 

Elevating The Common Good

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In a world that faces significant challenges calling for greater cooperation, a vision for the future that is limited to the organization’s activity and success can appear myopic and insular. Such a focus on the organization in the vision can also lead to redundancy with the mission, which is specifically about the organization; a close read of those statements might reveal blurred distinctions. On the other hand, a vision that includes the larger society announces an outward-looking and forward-looking mindset. Along with the members of the organization, present and potential customers, clients, students and others you engage can identify with those goals and feel they are helping to advance them.

Studies reveal that many organizations that practice corporate social responsibility are more profitable. Still, the long tradition of “giving back to the community” with sponsorships or volunteerism is no longer sufficient. The national reckoning on race amid the pandemic, climate change, wealth inequality, globalization and accelerating technology, among other things, have elevated expectations that organizations will take a stand on such issues as social justice, racial equity and environmental sustainability. It might be time to rework vision statements to articulate the aim of a world where everyone can flourish. I believe an explicit statement of that goal, across diverse industries and even competing companies, could remind everyone that far more unites us than divides us. 

Enriching Meaning And Purpose

Such a vision, coupled with a mission that articulates specifically how the organization’s activity helps achieve it, can also inspire organization members. An old story I heard about a visit to a medieval construction site describes encounters with a laborer who said he was cutting stone, one who said he was earning money to support his family and one who said he was building a cathedral — when all three were performing the same task. In addition to practicing their trade and earning their living, employees at an organization with a vision of human flourishing will know they are building a cathedral, so to speak. Whatever their particular task, they can see how it contributes to the organization’s mission and, therefore, to the better world they want. 

A meaningful mission is no substitute for adequate compensation. An organization with a stated vision of human flourishing should implement that vision among its members. While many companies eliminated jobs during the pandemic, some who put their employees first found ways to avoid terminations and sustain their business. Shifts in the workplace dynamic due to the pandemic, including the so-called “Great Resignation,” are driving organizations to address the full range of workers’ concerns, including pay. A vision and mission so comprehensive can unite and energize a team for the success of the organization and the individual. 

Establishing A Touchstone 

Vision and mission are highly public, carefully crafted capsules of an organization’s core values, goals and priorities. They are the heart and soul of the organization. They can provide a constant reminder and guide for internal deliberations and decisions.

For example, an organization that envisions a world where everyone can flourish will consider diversity, equity and inclusion in everything they do, not just as a separate department or add-on program. An organization’s ethical decision making will be elevated because it will consider whether it can do something, as well as whether it should do it. In an emergency or crisis, the vision and mission can provide a lodestar for actions when the usual information-vetting is incomplete. For instance, as a university president during the disruption of Covid-19, our student-first approach led us to stick with our priorities without retrenching. We sustained planned construction and new programs. Vision and mission also drive budget decisions and resource allocation. 

Stakeholders outside the organization, including customers, vendors and the general public, will also use the vision and mission to evaluate the brand. This includes comparing the organization’s words with its actions and holding it accountable for integrity and follow-through. Of course, some people may not share the organization’s vision and object to its decisions. Still, the organization that maintains its principles likely will thrive. 

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The new world emerging from the global pandemic calls for reevaluating past organizational approaches on subjects from social engagement to employee compensation to workplace culture. This could be a pivotal moment for organizations to revisit their vision and mission and to articulate more powerfully the world they want to see and the way they will help bring that about.


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