Vision, purpose, strategy and mission – a winning combination

(this post is also available in Swedish)

Two years after the end of their careers, 78 percent of NFL players have gone into personal bankruptcy or have severe financial concerns, writes Aftonbladet. Could it be a result of too little purpose and too much vision?

In the western world  it is seldom funds that missing but rather a lack of purpose. Projects and development initiatives are allocated funds, but rarely succeed in delivering beyond expectations or in some cases deliver at all. We have all the prerequisite but we deliver “just okej”. Few ends up in position 1-3 of Peter Senges 7 possible attitudes in relation to a vision. The methods and the leadership that define and communicate meaning shine with their absence.

When players in the NFL have reached their goals and made their money, can their financial concerns be a sign of lack of meaning (purpose) in a larger context? The first of seven mortal sins according to Deming: Lack of constancy of purpose.

Lack of meaning when the lights go out at the stage rarely bodes well.

Vision, purpose and strategy separately

  • To achieve short-term victories, a vision can suffice. “I will run 5 km in 22 minutes” (vision). But then what (purpose)?
  • With only a purpose defined, we do not get the energy and focus that a vision gives us when we visualize it for our self and communicate it outward. “I want to feel better so I run” (purpose).” But where do I want (vision)?
  • Without a strategy, we are not effective in achieving our vision and living our purpose. “I will run 5 km in 22 minutes because I want to feel better. (vision and purpose) ” But how do I train then (strategy)?

Create prerequisite for change

To achieve real change, we need to articulate and communicate both vision, purpose, strategy and mission. We need to highlight their relations and context to the individual and the team. We need to give everyone a meaning to gather around.

Pia Sundhage inspiringly describes in her book “Spela på bästa fot : att leda med glädje” how she led change in the US national team in soccer. When she took over the team for the 2008 Olympics, the given goal / vision was Olympic gold. But the success came by communicating the need for change and she did not stop at the vision, she also defined and communicated a purpose and a strategy.

  • The goal / vision (what): Win Olympic gold
  • Purpose (why): Change. Getting better together. To develop the game from physics soccer to technical soccer . “Win respect for the way we play”.
  • Strategy (how): Fitness training with the ball. Pulse measurement. Fitness test. Play a lot of training games.

Decentralize decisions and optimize the system as a whole

When we develop in a scaled context, we need vision, purpose, strategy and mission so that decentralized decisions in the teams do not lead to local optimization. Optimizing the system as a whole is an important principle in Lean-Agil development. Vision, purpose, strategy and mission become guidelines that keeps teams and individuals focused without sacrificing their own initiatives and solutions. Vision and purpose gives an understanding of what we do now and what lies in our roadmap going forward.

Internal and external motivation

If vision is the goal, then purpose is the way. By focusing on the road (purpose) we often deliver a better result on our journey towards the vision. Knowledge workers who are driven by inner motivation deliver higher quality than those driven by external motivation, says Daniel Pink. Inner motivation defines Pink as autonomy, purpose and masteryand examples of external motivation are financial bonuses.

By working actively with both vision, purpose, strategy and mission, we move in the same direction in and between teams and between products and technologies and we gain a shared understanding of strategy and priorities.


It is not enough with just a vision or just a purpose. We need both to create direction and meaning. Or as Nietzsche said “Whoever has a why to live for, endures every how“.

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