Clear vision and mission statements are the building blocks of a sound enterprise strategy. Whether you’re a for-profit business, or not-for-profit association, it’s essential to hone these statements into critical guideposts for your organization, especially now in our increasingly dynamic and disruptive economy.

In brief, a vision statement describes the ideal future state of your organization, perhaps five or ten years out. It should be both aspirational and inspirational. Whereas a mission statement explains what your organization, and divisions and departments, do to support and fulfill the vision.

Together these statements reveal a great deal about your company to your stakeholders—customers, investors, employees and suppliers. Because these statements are so important and formative to your strategy, they are often extremely difficult to articulate and to build consensus on, as anyone who’s participated in a vision or mission workshop can rightly attest. However, the effort is well worth it, and those who invest the brainpower today in well-formed statements will have an easier time keeping all stakeholders aligned and driving toward common goals and the future. Once your guideposts are determined, every initiative can be validated by answering this question: How does this contribute to our vision and support our mission?

Don’t fear a rewrite.

There are many catalysts that prompt organizations to revisit their vision and mission statements; a merger or acquisition, a divestiture or more commonly a new CEO or executive leadership. In some cases, especially for larger, more established enterprises, it’s difficult for a new CEO to consider challenging the status quo. However, even when a new CEO sets the tone for their tenure with a new vision statement and mission, it’s much less common for them to see the need to adjust their own work midstream. But why not? What about when the market is signaling change?

Today’s organizations shouldn’t wait for one of these traditional catalysts to occur to think about the relevance of their vision and mission statements—both internally and externally—and how they are using them to communicate their unique position in the market. Yes, it’s great to have enduring statements, but making smart adjustments along the way is more important (and potentially less damaging).

When is your vision and mission statement in need of more clarity?

Clarity and directional inconsistencies can be readily identified with some analysis by breaking down your statements into components, and comparing them to the market-driven forces, competitive landscape and opportunities your organization is responding to, pursuing or desires to pursue.

If your vision statement is void of reference to your customers, clients and the constituencies that enable you to grow, you’ll need to think about a more outside-in perspective. Yes, it’s a fantastic vision to aspire to be the biggest, and best (and most financially successful), but who is going to make that a reality? Customer-focused and value-driven statements tell employees and the market exactly who you are helping to succeed.

If your mission statement doesn’t reveal what you do—your products, services and/or methods—think it through again. Most mission statements succeed in capturing the core, unique qualities and deliverables that stakeholders can expect from the company or organization.

Examples of top firms in transition

Apple CEO Tim Cook saw the need to adjust the organization’s vision statement shortly after he took the helm. This may seem counterintuitive, as the natural inclination might be to “not touch a thing” following the extraordinary run and vision of Steve Jobs. However, in keeping with Apple’s culture of constantly disrupting itself to achieve innovation and growth, the new vision statement is drafted in a unique conversational tone, and reinforces the key attributes that are driving Apple to continued success.

General Electric recently updated its vision statement to create urgency around a digital future. Its corporate vision is now “to become the world’s premier digital industrial company, transforming industry with software-defined machines and solutions that are connected, responsive and predictive.” The injection of “digital,” “software-defined” and “predictive” send strong signals to employees and to the market of GE’s intent to transform in a dramatic way. It remains to be seen if GE is successful, but directionally its new vision statement is clear.

Amazon might consider modifying its current vision statement, “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” It seems spot on, until you consider Amazon’s recent forays into the brick and mortar retail marketplace are not reflected in the current statement.

Vision and mission frame your strategic plan

As you engage in any strategic planning process it’s important to consider the essential role strong vision and mission statements play in framing your strategy. Prior to engagements with clients, we recommend they share their vision and mission with us. Thoughtful adjustments to ensure your vision and mission statements are aligned with, and accurately reflect, your aspirations and goals will pay dividends by guiding a cohesive strategy, helping you develop and deliver products that contribute directly to goals and by improving enterprise-wide productivity and employee engagement.