Introduction to Industrial Engineering

By Jane M. Fraser

Chapter 4


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4.1 Mission, vision, and values statements.

Covey says “Begin with the end in mind” and all organizations should do that. An organization should have a mission statement, that is, a clear, succinct statement of why it exists.

Collins and Porras suggest this approach to defining mission, or what they call purpose:

An effective way to get at purpose is to pose the question "Why not just shut this organization down, cash out, and sell off the assets?" and to push for an answer that would be equally valid both now and one hundred years into the future. (page 78)

Consider these examples:

The following list gives attributes of a good mission statement:

  1. It should state the purpose for which the organization exists.
  2. It should have a narrow focus.
  3. It should be clear.
  4. It should get to the point.
  5. It should be realistic, feasible, achievable.
  6. It should be a succinct one sentence with few adjectives and adverbs.
  7. It should provide guidance for leadership and employees.
  8. It should let prospective employees know what the company is like.
  9. It should be unique to that organization.

Consider again the examples given above. Most of these are well written. Some are a little wordy, some are more than one sentence, and some incorporate elements of vision and values statements, which we will discuss in the next sections. However, each provides a clear statement about why the organization exists and they all provide guidance to members of the organization about what types of activities it should undertake.

For example, if a prospective client approached Armstrong Healthcare to ask if the company can provide robots to perform intercranial biopsies, the company would respond "we can." If a prospective client approached Technical Materials, Inc., to ask the company to manufacture a device that had no strip metal components, the company would say "we don't do that." In fact, companies often refer clients to other companies and often receive referrals back in turn. A group of companies, in a geographical area or in an industry, often know the missions of each company and refer clients to the appropriate company.

Now consider these examples of mission statements, which don't make clear what the organization does:

If you didn't know from the name of the organization what it does, these statements don't help much.

An organization should also have a vision statement, that is, a statement of how the organization would like to be perceived by its customers. A mission statement gives the reason the organization exists. The vision statement describes what the organization wants to be. What is the destination for this organization?

Consider these examples:

The Alliance for NonProfit Management provides good advice on creating a vision statement:

“A vision statement should be realistic and credible, well articulated and easily understood, appropriate, ambitious, and responsive to change. It should orient the group's energies and serve as a guide to action. It should be consistent with the organization's values. In short, a vision should challenge and inspire the group to achieve its mission.” quotes Ron Robinson, president of ABARIS Consulting Inc., as saying that a vision statement should paint “a picture of the ideal organization in the future.” It should not look only a few years into the future.

The following list gives attributes of a good vision statement:

  1. It should state what the organization aims to be in the future.
  2. It should allow for growth and development.
  3. It should be inspiring to the employees. Now you can use the adjectives and adverbs that didn’t belong in them mission statement.
  4. It should be clear.

Finally, many organizations have a values statement. Carter McNamara says

“Values represent the core priorities in the organization’s culture, including what drives members’ priorities and how they truly act in the organization, etc.”

Consider these examples:

The following list gives attributes of a good values statement:

  1. It should set priorities for the organization by stating what is important.
  2. It should describe how members of the organization interact with each other and with others outside the organization.
  3. It should provide guidance about trade-offs.

Collins and Porras found that visionary companies have strong values.

In a visionary company, the core values need no rational or external justification. Nor do they sway with the trends and fads of the day. Nor even do they shift in response to changing market conditions. (page 75)

Now let's put mission, vision, and values all together. Collins and Porras found that mission, vision, and values (or what they call ideology) was very important to their visionary companies.

A detailed pair-by-pair analysis showed that the visionary companies have generally been more ideologically driven and less purely profit-driven than the comparison companies in seventeen out of eighteen pairs. ... This is one of the clearest differences we found between the visionary and comparison companies. (page 55)

But they also noted:

The visionary companies attained their stature not so much because they made visionary pronouncements (although they often did make such pronouncements). Nor did they rise to greatness because they wrote one of the vision, values, purpose, mission, or aspiration statements that have become popular in management today (although they wrote such statements more frequently than the comparison companies and decades before it became fashionable). Creating a statement can be a helpful step in building a visionary company, but it is only one of thousands of steps in a never-ending process of expressing the fundamental characteristics we identified across the visionary companies. (pages 10-11)

Peters argues that a leader should live the vision and preach it with intensity and emotion (Thriving on Chaos, pages 406-407). Hayes and Wheelwright found that the successful manufacturing companies had strong philosophies. Jim Collins says the statements don't matter as much as the alignment of theorganization with the mission, vision, and values:

Studying and working closely with some of the world's most visionary organizations has made it clear that they concentrate primarily on the process of alignment, not on crafting the perfect "statement." Not that it is a waste of time to think through fundamental questions like, "What are our core values? What is our fundamental reason for existence? What do we aspire to achieve and become?" Indeed, these are very important questions-questions that get at the "vision" of the organization.

Organizations that have mission, vision, and values statements may not call them that and may not separate out the three parts. They often put these statements together on one web page. Consider these examples.

CIA Vision, Mission, and Values
We will provide knowledge and take action to ensure the national security of the United States and the preservation of American life and ideals.

We are the eyes and ears of the nation and at times its hidden hand. We accomplish this mission by: Collecting intelligence that matters. Providing relevant, timely, and objective all-source analysis. Conducting covert action at the direction of the President to preempt threats or achieve United States policy objectives.

In pursuit of our country's interests, we put Nation before Agency, Agency before unit, and all before self. What we do matters. Our success depends on our ability to act with total discretion and an ability to protect sources and methods. We provide objective, unbiased information and analysis. Our mission requires complete personal integrity and personal courage, physical and intellectual. We accomplish things others cannot, often at great risk. When the stakes are highest and the dangers greatest, we are there and there first.

We stand by one another and behind one another. Service, sacrifice, flexibility, teamwork, and quiet patriotism are our hallmarks.

Ford Motor Company

Our Vision
To become the world's leading consumer company for automotive products and services.

Our Mission
We are a global family with a proud heritage passionately committed to providing personal mobility for people around the world. We anticipate consumer need and deliver outstanding products and services that improve people's lives.

Our Values
Our business is driven by our consumer focus, creativity, resourcefulness, and entrepreneurial spirit. We are an inspired, diverse team. We respect and value everyone's contribution. The health and safety of our people are paramount. We are a leader in environmental responsibility. Our integrity is never compromised and we make a positive contribution to society. We constantly strive to improve in everything we do. Guided by these values, we provide superior returns to our shareholders.

The University of San Francisco
The University of San Francisco will be internationally recognized as a premier Jesuit Catholic, urban University with a global perspective that educates leaders who will fashion a more humane and just world.

The core mission of the University is to promote learning in the Jesuit Catholic tradition. The University offers undergraduate, graduate and professional students the knowledge and skills needed to succeed as persons and professionals, and the values and sensitivity necessary to be men and women for others.

The University will distinguish itself as a diverse, socially responsible learning community of high quality scholarship and academic rigor sustained by a faith that does justice. The University will draw from the cultural, intellectual and economic resources of the San Francisco Bay Area and its location on the Pacific Rim to enrich and strengthen its educational programs.

Core Values
The University’s core values include a belief in and a commitment to advancing:

The Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists (MAES)

To promote excellence in engineering, science, and mathematics while cultivating the value of cultural diversity by:

To be the model professional organization that successfully raises the education level of American and develops committed leaders for tomorrow.


As we have seen, some mission statements just aren't very good. Also, some organizations make the creation of mission, vision, and statements into a ponderous exercise, without much purpose. I have spent time on mission, vision, and values statements for three reasons.

  1. As Covey says, “begin with the end in mind.” Collins and Porras found that the visionary companies were more likely to focus on an ideology than were the less successful companies.
  2. The IE working for an organization needs guidance – exactly what does this organization do and with what values? What is the goal that this organization’s system is trying to reach? If the organization’s mission isn’t clear the IE will have a hard time knowing what effectiveness means for that organization.
  3. As I will discuss more in Chapter 8 IE Careers, you will be happier if you work for an organization that is compatible with your mission and vision, and especially with your values.

For some humor on the subject of mission and vision statements, try these links: