May 8, 2004

Developing Vision and Mission Statements

by Cole Ehmk, Craig Dobbins, Allan Gray, Michael Boehlje, and Alan Miller

In this publication we look at the underlying purpose for which the business exists: its vision and mission. An important key to any successful journey is to start with the end in mind. This is true whether the journey is something like a carefully planned vacation or like the initiation of a new business enterprise or restructuring of an existing business. A vision is the concept of what the firm really wants to be. It cap- tures the imagination of the company and provides a focus for efforts. A firm’s mission describes what the business does and what customers it serves. A mission is more specific than a vision in that it establishes the guidelines of how the business fulfills its vision. The information and worksheets in this publication will help you build and maintain a vision for your business.

Vision Statement

During the strategic planning process, farm business managers should write a vision statement and a mission statement for their farm. The vision statement indicates the characteristics of the farm in the future and can help answer many questions about the business. In writing the business vision statement, the farm business management team is trying to arrive at a consensus about what they want the farm to be in the future. Thus, the vision statement for the farm business provides a basis for leading the farm business into the future.

Most vision statements include some aspects of three important elements: a core ideology, an envisioned future, and recognition of service to stakeholders. The core ideology of the vision statement contains a statement about the firm’s values and “reason for being.” The envisioned future is a statement that describes what the farm will be like if it achieves its most important goals. The final part of the vision statement is the recognition of how the farm business serves its stakeholders, including owners/creditors, employees, and customers, as well as the community and society. It is important that a vision statement be able to stand the test of time and provide guidance to decision makers as they determine the direction of the farm in the future.

If you have never seen a vision statement, it may be helpful to review some examples. The example in Figure 1 is for MBC Farms, a grain and livestock farm located in northern Indiana. The farm consists of 3,000 acres and a 250-cow dairy herd. In addition to commodity corn and soybeans, the farm produces high oil corn and food grade corn. The farm also produces hay and silage that is used in the dairy.

The future envisioned by the MBC Farms’ management team is influenced by the things they value. A key element of the visioning process is a reaffirmation of one’s values. For MBC Farms, operating a profitable business is valued. They also value owning farmland, being good neighbors, and gaining the respect of these neighbors. Providing opportunities for their children in the family business is also important. You can find additional vision statements in Appendix 1.

The vision statement has the potential to provide guidance when unanticipated problems and opportunities present themselves in the future. Having given careful consideration to the future characteristics of the business, farm business managers will find it easier to make decisions about unexpected opportunities in a timely manner. The vision statement also provides a useful starting point for developing a set of goals and objectives for the farm. The goals and objectives of the farm business identify those tasks that must be achieved for the long-term vision of the farm to be accomplished.

This publication provides several exercises to stimulate and organize your thinking about your vision of the farm business: “What Is Desired?”; “Vision/Mission Worksheet”; and “Statement of Our Business Vision.” Take some time to answer the questions. Get other members of the management team to do the same. Set aside some time when members of the management team can share and discuss their vision of the business. The “Statement of Our Business Vision” asks the management team to write a vision statement. This statement should be one that all members of the management team can agree with. The statement’s format, its length, and items included are not critical. The most important consideration in the development of a vision statement is its usefulness in managing your business.

Mission Statement

Unlike the vision statement, a statement focusing on the future, the business mission statement focuses on the current farm business. The business mission statement outlines “who we are, what we do, and for whom we do it.” It provides a concise summary of the farm business’s purpose. The mission statement deals with what the farm business is about and why.

Usually, the mission statement will be very specific about selected key information concerning the farm business. Examples of key information include customers who are served, products that are produced, key business capabilities, and unique aspects or accomplishments. Any facts that are useful for characterizing the farm business in terms of what it is and what it does could be included in the farm business mission. In some cases, the mission statement is only a short sentence or two.

Again, if you have never seen a mission statement, reviewing examples can be helpful. Figure 2 shows the mission statement for MBC Farms. The MBC Farms mission statement is aligned with the vision statement. The mission statement focuses on the here and now, and it is streamlined. But the connections between the mission and vision are apparent in terms of the focus on grains, specialty crops, and milk production; the focus on profitability; and the focus on doing the things necessary to provide a legacy.

To assist with the development of a mission statement, several exercises are provided to stimulate and organize your thinking: “Vision/Mission Worksheet”; “Developing a Business Mission”; and “Our Business.” The final exercise, “Our Business,” asks you to develop a brief mission statement describing what the business does, for whom, and the business uniqueness. You can find additional mission statements in Appendix 1. Again, getting input and ideas from all members of the management team is important. Be sure that the statement is one that all members of the management team agree with. The exact format of the mission statement, the items included, and its length are not critical. The most critical aspect of the final product is the extent to which it helps you manage your business.

Final Comments on Vision and Mission Statements

Although many people have preconceptions about what a good
vision or mission statement should look like, a focus on appearances is generally not very helpful. Farm business managers should not become distracted by technicalities such as how long or short or how specific or general each statement should be. Instead, they should focus on gaining a better understanding of themselves, their business, and the business environment in which they operate. Any way that you find to clearly express that newfound or rediscovered understanding will produce a useful statement.

The purpose of a farm business vision statement is to express management’s vision for the future of the business in words that will provide direction and motivation to everyone involved in the business. An effective farm business mission statement identifies the essential elements of the current business. Because management of most farm businesses involves more than one person, the development of these statements becomes a communications tool for the members of the management team. These statements can also be used to improve communication with other business stakeholders.

More often than not, a gap exists between where the farm business is now and
where it wants to be in the future. It is the recognition of this gap that gives strategic planning its power to provide direction and motivation for the farm business. Farm business managers must bridge this gap if the vision is to have any chance of becoming reality. They must evaluate implications of the gap and factor them into farm business goals and action plans.

 

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This publication is part of a series on applying strategic thinking to your farm. Each publication has a unique focus, enabling you to select those topics of greatest interest to you. Other publications help identify the important trends in the industry (EC-717), assess the strengths and weaknesses of your business (EC-721), and assess how your business can respond to opportunities and threats (EC-716).

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