W&WP December 2001

Define Your Vision and Mission


By Tom Dossenbach


Last month, I encouraged readers to take a critical look at where their company was and where it was going. Some companies have a clear vision for their future and others have operated for years without one. In either case, every company has a mission whether or not it is stated and recorded.


A vision alone is only a dream. Coupled with a mission, the vision is a destination

A furniture manufacturer without a vision of what the company should be or the methods to see that vision realized (a mission) is operating totally "inside the box" with all flaps closed and sealed. Such a company certainly fits the popular phrase: "If you don't know where you are going - any road will get you there!"


Why a Vision and Mission Statement?

I subscribe to the theory that any company - especially those that are struggling - need to cast a clear vision of their future. If a company has become unprofitable or only marginally profitable, it has likely lost its focus. To be successful, every woodworking company must have a defined vision for its existence. Even if you have only 12 employees in your cabinet shop, you cannot afford to have them operate in a vacuum with no idea of where the company is going. Day-to-day supervision is not enough.

Company ownership and management have an obligation to make clear the direction the company should be heading. If not, every employee may have a slightly different focus that could diminish the chances for success.

I have worked with bankrupt woodworking companies and some that were heading for closure even though they did not know it. My strong conviction is that it is impossible to turn a manufacturer around if they first don't cast a vision of a revived company. Without such a vision, there is a tremendous void and no common focus.

A vision alone is basically only a dream. However, coupled with a mission, it is a destination.

The mission of a company is intended to define how to reach the vision. A store fixture manufacturer without a mission statement leaves the door open for all managers and employees to define and work toward their own mission for the company. This does not suggest a malicious agenda, just one that is not on target.

If there is a published vision and mission statement, it is very simple for anyone to question if what they are doing is furthering the vision and mission of the company. Any negative answer to this question indicates a hindrance to the company. In fact, any employee or associate of a company is actually working against the company (and thus contributing to its potential failure) if he or she is not in step with its vision and mission.

Now, ask yourself if the company has a vision and/or mission statement. Are you in sync with it? Is everyone in your organization working toward a common goal?

Vision and Mission Statement in the Works

The following is one example of a company that was in dire need of vision and mission statements. (Note: The company name, location, etc. has been changed).

Company X had filed Chapter 11 and was in dire need of a workout program to emerge from bankruptcy. The company had been loosing money for years and employee morale was at an all-time low. The suppliers of materials and services to the company were demanding cash-in-advance and the customer base was doubtful that the company would survive - much less make deliveries on time.

Obviously the company had been struggling to stay one step ahead of the creditors - or in a "survival" mode - before and since filing Chapter 11.

How are customers going to acquire any confidence in Company X? Likewise, will suppliers feel they are doing business with a company that will survive? Why should employees be motivated to stay and do a good job? What reason would a bank have to lend money to this company?

A statement of ?trust us? will not suffice. A workable plan must be in place and a vision and mission cast to serve as the foundation of that plan. Thus, Company X developed its first-ever vision and mission statement. (See sidebars).


Company X Vision Statement

Company X will become the most respected manufacturer of millwork in the building industry in the southeastern United States.


We will set the industry standard for excellence in customer service, quality and value of product, and providing a good place to work.


Did this in itself turn the company around? No, of course not. But it did give the company purpose and focus and something to take to the employees to show the new vision. Company X said it was easy to ask them to buy into that vision and subscribe to the mission statement. In fact, the company asked that anyone who could not truly support the new vision and mission of the company to resign that day. No one left but instead all began working that day to implement the mission in order to realize the vision. Each employee associate was given a laminated copy of the statements to carry with them.

Once Company X explained the new commitment of the company (and all of the associates working there) to its customers, they became excited and began sending in orders. It became much easier to work with suppliers and financial institutions.

Your company may not be in financial trouble like Company X was, but that does not mean that there are not valuable benefits to the company for having a vision and mission statement.

How to Start

The first step in development of meaningful vision and mission statements is to accept that they are necessary and vital to the company. Having accepted that, you should realize that these are not static but living statements that may need revision from time to time. If your company began in 1955 making chairs and you named it Ajax Chair Co. and now are making a full range of case goods as well, should you not change the name of the company? Likewise, a vision and mission statement may require revision as the business focus is changed.

The next step is for top management to think through the objectives of the company by asking questions such as those that follow:

* Why was the company formed to begin with?

* Is that still a valid reason?

* Who are our customers?

* How can we best serve them?

* What are their requirements and expectations?

* How does globalization affect the company?

* Is there a future for the company?

* What will likely guarantee that future?


Company X

Mission Statement

As associates of Company X:


* We recognize that our customers come first in our endeavors, and we will put their needs first in our daily efforts.


* We will strive to make Company X a good place to work.


* We will become and remain a major innovator of quality millwork in the building industry.


* We will work together to be a profitable company to provide our fellow associates with job security and the means to support themselves and their families.


* We believe that every associate of Company X is important to the success of our company and we will freely give each other respect and cooperation in our daily efforts.


A vision and mission must be cast from the top with the thoughtful input of managers in finance, sales and marketing, manufacturing, human resources and others in key management positions. But, to be most effective, input from employees is also a requirement.

As ideas are assembled for inclusion in the statements, remember that this is the ultimate screen through which customers and others will view who the company is and form their perceptions of the company. It is also a means for your competitors to evaluate you. Therefore, you should be careful not to indicate the strategies the company will use to accomplish its mission.


A mission statement must be followed up with policies, goals and objectives that are designed to contribute to the accomplishment of the mission and thus the vision of the company. This does not mean that a notebook full of policies needs to be written. It does mean that any that exist or need to be written to help guide the company, must be supportive of these statements. Everything flows from the vision and mission if properly structured.

Many companies will say that they have been doing fine without waving the banner of a vision and mission statement. It is your call.

My challenge at the dawn of 2002 is to review and update vision and mission statements if you have them. If you do not have them in place and published, do it before you get your next issue of Wood & Wood Products and share them with every member of the company, customers, suppliers, and community. If nothing else, it will force you to think through some critical questions for the future of the company.


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.