The Strategic Pyramid

The Strategic PyramidWhat’s the difference between a mission and a vision? How’s a purpose different from a goal? Does the corporate mission last forever, or does it change over time? If you’re confused about any or all of these, it’s not your fault. For two decades, business leaders have tossed these terms around with reckless abandon, while experts have defined them in ways that seem to contradict one other.

Here’s a simple model that puts the major concepts of the last 20 years into a clearly defined hierarchy. The next time you address the top-level drivers behind your business or brand, download the slide below to get your team on the same page.

The Strategic Pyramid

Notice in the pyramid that mission and vision are on the same level. They’re like unidentical twins that reveal the “how” and the “what” of future success. Most CEOs get this wrong, using mission and vision interchangeably. Also notice that purpose is on a higher level than both mission and vision. That’s because even when the mission isn’t going well and the vision seems like a mirage, a strong purpose will keep people coming back to work day after day.

That’s it. Now you can start building a strategy that all your stakeholders can understand.

image credit: wikipedia.com

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Marty Neumeier’s mission is to “incite business revolution by unleashing the power of design thinking.” He does this by writing books, conducting workshops, and speaking internationally about brand, innovation, and design. His bestselling “whiteboard” books include The Brand Gap, Zag, and The Designful Company. His video, Marty Neumeier’s Innovation Workshop, combines highlights from all three books into a hands-on learning experience. Marty is the Director of Transformation for Liquid Agency.

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7 Responses to The Strategic Pyramid

  1. Sean H says:

    For me it needs core values to inform how we treat others – staff, customers and suppliers.

  2. Giri Fox says:

    Actually, you’re better off not having both mission if you also have a vision. It just confuses people. If you’ve ever led a workshop exercise to plan these out, you find the first argument is “what’s the definition of mission, and how’s it different to vision?”

    If you need to nit-pick a conceptual framework for something as important as a guide on how to do your business, then you have a problem. Change the framework.

    I think mission is a completely out-of-date concept.

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  4. Chris Byrd says:

    Consider this as well. The way the mission in stated in the pyramid is like a roadmap of the US from 20,000 feet. If your destination is California, you can look at a roadmap and see an almost infinite number of ways to get there. As you add variables such as speed, fuel economy, timetable and other factors, you eliminate certain routes. Now, as you begin to look out in a shorter time frame, you get closer to the map, and the route that is most desirable becomes evident, and you can predict where in your journey you will be at a certain point. Such as getting to Little Rock in 24 hours. Where strategic planning breaks down is when you decide on a route, timetable, expense prediction and labor effort, and you only allow the business the one route, say I-40 to make the trip. You are one rock slide away from losing confidence in strategic planning.

    While it is essential to establish your strategic plan around the best route given your resources and capabilities, most companies fail when they cannot imagine another route, or allow for contingencies. See, if you have to slow down or take a detour, up close it appears a major problem that can invalidate your short term strategy. However, back up at 20,000 feet, you are still moving toward California. Hey most of us want our businesses to grow and prosper in the long term. Are you overreacting to the short term problems? Did you spend any time imagining the challenges that you may face along the way? Even better, did you plan for them, or is success only defined for your company as one sales goal, on one time frame, with one profitability?

    Here is a hint for your thinking. Under what conditions can your company still survive and thrive – sales level, cost levels, customer retention and attainment? Have you created a business plan that arbitrarily requires you to be above any of these survival numbers without a real justification? Is it just because you did it before? Know what your minimum operational criteria are, and it will help greatly in planning!

  5. Marty Neumeier says:

    Chris, this is an apt analogy. I think a lot of strategists make the fatal mistake of building a “brittle” plan based on faulty assumptions. You can’t possibly know everything about the conditions you’ll encounter down the road, but you CAN build forgiveness into your plan so that the inevitable surprises don’t knock you into a ditch.

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