An MBA graduate from a prestigious east-coast school told us recently that he “learned more about strategic planning in the past two hours than during my entire MBA curriculum.” While humbled, we are not surprised, since most people are confused about the difference between the terms ‘mission’ and ‘vision’. Their confusion is promoted by some of the greatest minds of our ‘liberal’ academic world and its sometime opponent, the ‘conservative’ military-industrial complex. The confusion is also promulgated by some of the world’s largest and most influential consulting firms (the same ones that have brought us over 15 varieties of a roles and responsibilities tool; including RACI, RASI, RASCI, ARCI, etc. (see Transform Your Responsibilities Matrix into a GANTT Chart)

In fact, the argument is dispatched quickly by avoiding use of the terms mission and vision. Rather, substitute the nature of the questions they attempt to answer, if you seek to dispel the confusion. One term represents sentiment that answers the question “Why do we show up (or, Why are we here?)?” and the other term represents sentiment that answers the question “Where are we going?” With this logic, the natural sequence is to know where we are before we discuss where we are going.

Mission or Vision?

In many textbooks, strategic planning begins with mission (ie, Why are we here?) and yields to vision (ie, Where are we going?). The military-industrial complex answers the same questions, in the same order, but uses the opposite terms. Note that the NATO armed forces have a vision of “liberty and independence” that explains their existence. When threatened however, they go forth on a “mission to (insert location; eg, Iraq).”

A facilitator is not biased toward one definition over the other. They are biased however to maintain consistency within the organization and culture they are serving. Since confusion exists in most organizations, an important part of the preparation activity involves building the lexicon or glossary for your meetings and workshops that homogenizes operational definitions and ensures that they are applied consistently, within and between your meetings and workshops.

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.