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Organizational Identity and Direction

By Brian Martin posted 09-24-2020 17:17


PDMA Body of Knowledge: Strategy Insights #1
PDMA Body of Knowledge: Strategy Insights #1

Read time:
8 minutes

The kHUB Curator Team members have each been assigned a BoK section to own. This includes seeking, editing and sharing content related to that section.  The curators are also sharing their perspective of various sub-sections of their chapter and contributing personal examples, experience, or related articles corresponding to the subject matter.

Chapter 1 – Strategy Insight

Strategy table

Organizational Identity and Direction

Strategy is intuitively understood to be crucial to an organization’s success. It lays down the approaches to try, initiatives to pursue and investments to make to achieve desired outcomes. As far back as 500 BC, Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese general wrote in The Art of War: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” He wasn’t negating the importance of tactics but instead emphasizing the criticality of strategy for ultimate success.

If good strategy leads to victory, how does an organization determine which war to win and which battles to fight? The answer can be found in section 1.2 of the PDMA Body of Knowledge – “Establishing the Organization’s Direction.” In here, the importance of Mission and Vision is established: Fundamental to the long-term success of an organization is a clear definition and understanding of what the organization stands for and why it exists.

A simple analogy is this: if strategy is the map, is there much point to having one if you have no idea where you are heading? Identity and direction, therefore, play a crucial role for employees, customers and other stakeholders in understanding what the organization is all about, what it is aiming to achieve and how it hopes to conduct itself in getting there. It provides a unifying force that brings everyone onto the same page and pushing in the same direction.

According to PDMA’s BoK, organizational identity provides the foundation for the definition of an organization’s Vision, Mission and Values. These provide a mechanism for articulating and communication that identity and direction to internal and external stakeholders. Anyone conducting strategy work within or for an organization can do a lot worse than starting with developing ist Mission, Vision and Values. However, in my experience, many people get confused by these terms and the difference between them. The following is my attempt to demystify and hopefully clarify their nature and role.


Mission is a logical place to start, as it’s the reason the organization exists. The statement of an organization’s creed, philosophy, purpose, business principles, and corporate beliefs. The purpose of the mission is to focus the energy and resources of the organization.

Two key attributes of a good Mission Statement in my experience are:

  1. It is inspirational. Generally, the mission is shared and promoted internally and externally and can be a powerful motivator for customers and staff alike. Who wants to work for an organization that has no clear idea of what value it aims to bring to the world?
  2. It is timeless, will remain relatively constant and does not need to change over many years of the organization’s existence. Whilst the organization may scale, mature and get better at achieving its mission, the mission itself does not change.

Don’t fall into the trap that the mission of a for-profit organization is simply to make lots of money. That, of course, is the financial reason that many companies exist, but to exist purely for the profit motive will not motivate employees or customers or guide the organization towards the spheres of operation where it should conduct itself. It would also be very dull to have every company in the world with the same mission statement. It is the unique value to be brought to the world that will guide the creation of a compelling and inspiring mission statement, a mission that all employees will be proud to be a part of and that customers can buy into.

Some good examples of Mission Statements include:

Starbucks: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

Google: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Microsoft: “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Kickstarter: “To help bring creative projects to life.”

Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

When I was working with our own company, Integrity360, a leading cyber-security services and solutions company, we came up with and landed on “To empower organisations to achieve great things, securely.” We made sure that our mission was about enabling our clients to achieve their goals without losing the core of the value we can bring, namely the security aspect. It was gratifying to see this Mission take hold within the organization to the extent that many employees who have since joined the company have, without any prompting, shared the company Mission on their LinkedIn profile.

It is clear from the above examples that mission statements do not have to contain a financial component, or exact, specific goals, but rather should provide a high level, clear and compelling reason for the organization to exist. In this sense, crafting a Mission Statement is a creative process as much as an exercise of definition.


Vision describes where the organization wants to get to, as such a desired future state. Therefore the critical attributes of a good Vision Statement are, in my experience, as follows:

  1. It is set in the future
  2. Relates to the organization and its future position and role and what it hopes to achieve
  3. It is challenging and inspirational. It should dream big and be clear about the direction.

The Vision is of interest to all employees of an organization and usually most of its stakeholders. Whereas the Mission describes the ongoing raison d’ être of the organization, the Vision provides that crucial target destination to inspire and provide a shared sense of direction. Many partners, suppliers and customers also have an interest in an organization’s Vision, especially if the relationship is more than just transactional. They ask themselves the question of whether or not they want to go along on the journey for the long term with your organization. Your Vision will provide the answer.

I find that a good Vision statement articulates both a future state of the organization and a future impact that the sustained Mission and Vision will have in the world. In that sense, it is not solely inwardly focussed but also takes a bold view of the value it will bring in that future state.

Good examples of Vision Statements include:

Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric organization; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

See in this example that the vision says something about the future Amazon (world’s most customer-centric organization) but also the future experience of its customers (can find anything they want).

Alzheimer’s Association: “A world without Alzheimer’s disease.”

This vision leaves out the future state of the organization and instead solely describes the vision in terms of its target impact.

McDonald’s: “To be the best quick service restaurant experience. Being the best means providing outstanding quality, service, cleanliness and value, so that we make every customer in every restaurant smile.”

This example is more specific and almost reads like a checklist. However, it sets clear boundaries for what the company wants to become and how it defines the experience it is aiming to deliver.

In the case of Integrity360, we came up with “To be the leading Cyber-Security specialist in Ireland and the UK, with the best people, delivering best-practice services and solutions.” As can be seen from this one, we articulate a vision for company growth but also reference the domain within which we will operate, put the focus on developing our people to be the best and commit to alignment with best practices.


The PDMA BOK refers to Values as the third pillar of organizational identity and direction. However, this is a broad topic in its own right and deserves to be treated in more detail another time. In essence, a solid foundational Mission and Vision establishes what the organization stands for, why it exists and where it is going. Values provide the consistent set of behaviours and standards that that will give a cohesiveness in how the organization goes about doing that.

In my own experience, I have found that developing a clear Mission and Vision statement provides a great platform to go on and surface the core values around which the team can coalesce. There really is no point in trying to impose values from the top; it rarely works and can appear hollow and create cynicism. Workshopping with the people at the heart of the organisation about what is important to them and drawing out a set of values that everyone buys into is the best way to engage everyone’s hearts and minds.

The Process is the Point

One last point to make is that it is not just the final wording of Vision and Mission statements and Values that is important. The process that employees, stakeholders and leaders go through to craft such statements is as vital as any polished final product. In my experience, this is crucial and more rewarding than a brilliant wordsmith going off into a dark room on their own and return with a slick piece of marketing. The sense of shared ownership and involvement brings an intimate relationship to the Mission, Vision and Values of the organization and can be a powerful motivator for a team behind unearthing and verbalizing its underlying identity and direction. Used well, it sets a firm foundation for crafting a strategy that everyone can understand and relate to so they all may play their part in its success.

About the Author

Brian Martin

Brian Martin has over thirty years’ experience of Product Management, Product Development, Strategy and Innovation in numerous technology domains, most notably in Industrial Electronics, Telecommunications and Cyber Security. He has led a variety of Product Management and Development functions in the B2B sector and has also held responsibility for Business Unit Strategy and Innovation. He holds a BSc. In Computer Applications from Dublin City University, an MBA from the Open University and a post-graduate diploma in Strategy and Innovation from the Irish Management Institute. Brian is currently Head of Product, Strategy and Innovation at Integrity360, Ireland’s leading cyber-security specialist services provider.

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10-06-2020 17:24

Hi Gabriela,
We held a two day offsite workshop with key company leadership to review Mission, Vision, Values, Strategy and Goals.

For Mission, we got everyone aligned on the difference between Mission, Vision and Values. For Mission and Vision, the team broke up into sub-groups (about 5 groups of 4). Everyone had to work on it and then come back and present on their proposal to the wider group. We debated them and then we took an open vote. However we had learned some things through the discussion and there were aspects of several we wanted to take into account, plus the final one needed polishing.

Two of us took it away to come up with a polished version subsequent to the offsite. There were a couple more rounds of review and revision until we landed on the exact final version we decided to go with. Because everyone had participated in the process there was a feeling it was inclusive and not handed down from on high, even if the final wording had moderated slightly.

09-25-2020 13:19

Insightful blog post, Brian. Mission, Vision, and Values is a topic that has been covered in several of my undergraduate and graduate business courses at Oakland University. Within an academic environment, I have learned how important it is to not only have a clear grasp of these three terms but also to ensure they are communicated to all internal and external stakeholders. As you mentioned, the support of the mission by each employee is critical for success. Would you be able to describe the process of creating the mission statement for your company, Integrity360, in more detail? Particularly, I'm interested in your experience overcoming the challenge of expressing the right sentiment as briefly as possible, keeping in mind the timeless nature of the mission.