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DECISION MAKING: The 3 Foundations of Business Decision Making: Mission, Vision, Values

Decisions. We all make decisions; we make decisions about our lives, our families, during our jobs and for our company.  This morning I decided to stop and let a pedestrian cross the street.  Now why do you think I decided to do that?  Was it because I’m a stickler for the rules, or because I have a belief that we should do unto others?  Whatever the reason, the idea is that I made that decision because I have some belief that’s driving it.  If we were to take this from a business perspective, whether we’re a staff member in a department or the department head, when a decision needs to be made, the hope is that there is some uniformity in the way the decision is made, and that is has the best interest of the company or department in mind and that it is based on the same set of business ethics.  The problem is we’re people. We all have different beliefs around what is right, wrong or inconsequential, and so it is critical that we build some foundational beliefs in our employees to make sure their decisions are in alignment with our organization.

A company’s mission, vision and values are that foundation.  They guide decision making by building common beliefs and understanding among employees.  When a strong mission, clear vision and detailed values are implemented, an organization will begin to eliminate personal preference, ensuring that critical decisions are ethically sound and consistent in approach.

Example: During the fall of 1982, for reasons not known, a malevolent person or persons, presumably unknown, replaced Tylenol Extra-Strength capsules with cyanide-laced capsules, resealed the packages, and deposited them on the shelves of at least a half dozen or so pharmacies, and food stores in the Chicago area. The poison capsules were purchased, and seven unsuspecting people died a horrible death. Johnson & Johnson, parent company of McNeil Consumer Products Company which makes Tylenol, suddenly, and with no warning, had to explain to the world why its trusted product was suddenly killing people (Berge, 1998).

In this example we see the dilemma that Johnson and Johnson faced in the wake of this terrible and potentially crippling series of events. In later discussions it was believed that recent planning sessions by senior leaders, at Johnson & Johnson prior to the incidents, provided a clear plan of attack for handling what unfolded. During the earlier planning sessions leaders revised and refined the company’s mission, vision and values.  It was these three components that provided them with the ability to make critical and timely decisions that protected the public while maintaining their brand power when the crisis occurred.  Let’s take a look at each of these components separately.

1. Mission: The mission of any company should define where it is. In essence, what is it that we actually do?  The mission is composed of four parts and it is these parts that lay the foundation for future decisions.  These parts include: What do we do, how do we do it, for whom do we do it, and why we do it. The mission should clearly define the parameters in which we as employees work, and thus make decisions.  In the case of Johnson & Johnson, leaders could have quite possibly returned to their mission to ask themselves these questions: Does our response to this issue cause us to do something other than what is stated in our mission? If so, then why do it?  The mission statement’s sole purpose is simply that; to provide purpose.  It gives purpose and meaning to everything an organization does.

The best mission statements also do this:
a. Give an identity
b. Explain why we exist
c. State the principle aim
d. Reflect what is important to the organization
e. Inspire and give meaning to what we do
f. Are clear and understandable
g. Are brief enough to keep in mind
h. Provide flexibility and growth

2. Vision: In any organization there’s a vision: whether recent or from its inception, someone somewhere along the way had a vision for what they wanted to company to become. The only difference is that now that vision must be held by all members of the organizations. The vision is critical to how an organization operates. If there is no clear vision or it at least it hasn’t been communicated down the ranks, then how could we expect employees to make decisions that are in alignment with that vision? If I’m simply making decisions that benefit me in the immediate, then it is very likely that I’m making those decisions to support my personal vision, not that of the larger collective.  Every critical decision made by an organization should propel it towards its vision. For example, if Johnson & Johnson’s vision was “to provide scientifically sound, high quality products and services to help heal, cure diseases, and improve the quality of life” – which it is – then any decision following the 1982 Tylenol scare should have been made with that end goal in mind.

The best visions are those that are communicated regularly and clearly, while also doing these:
a. Taking advantage of innovation
b. Incorporating new relationships
c. Are motivating and inspiring
d. Stretching and moving people towards greatness
e. Communicating easily
f. Seeming achievable
g. Fitting with our organizations values
h. Appearing  sustainable
i. Are  timeless, inspiring and provide clear guidelines for decision making
j. Consist of core ideology and the envisioned future
k. Are written in present tense as if they were being realized now

3. Values: Critical to the decision making process, values are what make sure the decisions being made are not self-serving.  They take into consideration moral obligations and ethics, and often are seen as the pillars on which we stand. Anyone can make a decision that is in the best interest of the company or themselves, but what about those decisions that are in the best interest of the customer, and that come at a cost? In 1982, when Johnson & Johnson removed the Tylenol from the shelves, that values-based decision cost them over 100 million dollars, but it also bought them a second chance.  Our values are those things that we never compromise, and so, when a company develops its values, it must be willing to commit whole-heartedly to them and portray them in everything it does.

Samples of these values statement could include:
a. We will always put the customer first.
b. We are honest in our dealings with others.
c. We constantly identify ways to give people more than they expect.
d. It is easy to do business with us.
e. We own problems and are always responsive.
f. We will judge and be judged, reward and be rewarded on the basis of our performance.

For many, the mission, vision and values play a significant role within the organization, but I’m not sure they are always looked at as assisting with critical decision-making.  I encourage you to revisit your company’s, or even your department’s mission, vision and values, and see if they are still in alignment with how you do business.  If they require revision, make the appropriate changes, and start by envisioning how they might be used to aid employees in making more informed and appropriate decision.

We’ve put together a quick Mission, Vision, Values Guide Pack to encourage you to revisit your own mission, vision, and values and help you along the process of “fine tuning” them.  To recieve your free Guide Pack simply email us at

The Guide Pack includes: check lists, definitions, samples of other organization’s statements, processes to work with a team on developing new statements, probing questions to facilitate disussion, and certain best business guidelines to follow.





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