Having a vision, mission, and aim are very important in bringing coherence to your organization. You can call them by different names but combining them or collapsing them is not the best idea. It can lead to confusion and allow you to miss or avoid one or another of them. And the different names may confuse you as well.
The vision is your dream. What you want the world to be. On a grand scale, it’s why your organization exists. This dream could have led you in many different directions, but the dream would be the same. It is generally unchanging. This dream, your vision of the better world, is what will keep you and your organization moving forward when there is too much work to do and adversity of one kind or another has struck.
Many people want to skip the vision. It might be too heart wrenching and emotionally revealing. It might be too small, too embarrassingly simple. Many of the most successful business leaders, entrepreneurs, and large corporations have dreams, outlined in clearly stated vision statements, that rival the best of the non-profit organizations.
Your mission is how you will contribute to making the dream come true. It describes your sphere of influence, the relationship between you and your vision. While the vision is a dream, the mission is action focused. It stakes out a territory. It says this is my subject, my industry, my work. This is what I’m going to do.
Your mission may change as the world changes and as you accomplish more. A mission statement should be reviewed every few years to determine if it is still relevant to your dream and if it is producing the changes you wanted to produce.
An aim is often called a goal or an objective. It is what you produce or accomplish. It is tangible and something that can be measured. If you can’t measure it, you can’t accomplish it.
Aims change frequently as you reach milestones and complete the work you set out to do. Aims should be realistic and based on reasonable expectations. An aim must be something you can point to with pride when you accomplish it. You must be able to see it. Your Vision is the dream that keeps you going when things are bleak and accomplishing your aim provides the daily satisfaction.
Where to Start
Sometimes it is easiest to start with your aim. It is tangible and you probably have some experience with it. Then define your mission, your relationship to the larger world, and then your vision.
On the other hand, idealists often have a dream and search around for a mission, their place to be in the world. Then they find a product or service that is needed in that niche.
But in the end, if you avoid your dream, work may be drudgery. If you avoid your mission, your relationship to the world will be fuzzy and confused. If you avoid defining a clear aim, you risk not just missing the target but having no target.