I first taught about mission statements almost 40 years ago when we developed the Pro-Dairy program in New York state. Over time, my thinking has continued to evolve and, hopefully, improve by including vision and values.
Milligan bob
Senior Consultant / Dairy Strategies LLC
Bob Milligan is also professor emeritus, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornel...

In this article, I share my current thinking on why all businesses and organizations – including dairy farms – need to articulate their mission, vision and values, and perhaps a “motivational catchphrase.”

I have worked with dairy farmers all my life. I know:

  • You work hard.

  • You are determined to succeed.

  • You are passionate about what you do.

  • You want hard-working, determined partners and employees.

What is it that creates the willingness to work hard and be determined and passionate? I believe every farmer has something akin to mission, vision and values that drives them. Why, then, do we worry about mission, vision, values and a motivational catchphrase?

The answer is that these drivers must be articulated with partners and employees. For partners, the mission, vision and values need to be articulated and discussed to ensure all are on the same page. Without this agreement, developing and implementing a successful strategy is often impossible. For employees and other stakeholders, these must be articulated in a form that provides motivation. This is what I will call the motivational catchphrase.


Before continuing, I will share a non-farm example of the “motivational catchphrase.” Last year, my wife and I were part of a Road Scholar Travel trip to New England focused on trains and, by the time of year, fall color.

In Lincoln, New Hampshire, our group met with a leader of Hobo Railroad. Its purpose is to provide a fun, relaxing, carefree outing for families. The name comes from the carefree nature of hobos. Their motivational catchphrase is “Creating memories – One ride at a time.”

Mission, vision and values

Today, almost all farms have multiple partners from two spouses to multiple family members to non-family partners. In my experience, the greatest source of conflict between partners and even business failure is lack of clarity or downright differences in mission, vision and values.

I will never forget the story from one of our first Pro-Dairy programs. In discussion of dairy farm mission, a husband and wife both said, “I have thought we should sell the farm for a long time but have not said anything because I ‘know’ my spouse is committed to continuing.” They moved on to the next step in their lives very quickly.

What, then, should be included as mission, vision and values are articulated?

  • Mission: Mission is the reason the dairy farm exists. Items like business growth, legacy, profitability, productivity, quality, professional development, etc. often are included. Mission is primarily for the owners as it is crucial to the development of the farm’s strategy.

  • Vision: Vision is the inspirational mental image of a successful future. This is the “why” the dairy farm exists and is crucial to motivation and passion. The vision articulates why what we are doing is important. Examples could be: “We feed families just like ours,” or “Improving quality of life through nutritious food.”

  • Values: Mission and vision are drivers of the future. Values tell us what is important and how to behave as we strive for that future. It is easy to make a long list of values. The challenge is to define the small number most important to the owners of the farm. Values greatly influence day-to-day decision making. Examples include honesty, safety, stewardship, community involvement, customer orientation, learning, etc.

There are many ways to articulate mission, vision and values. How you do it is not important. The key is that you include the what – mission; the why – vision; and the how – values. A great reference is Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Work and Your Life by Ken Blanchard, Jesse Stoner and Patrick Lencioni. They use a fable to illustrate articulating significant purpose (mission), picture of the future (vision) and values.

Motivational catchphrase

After articulating the mission, vision and values – or the what, why and how – for your farm, the next challenge is to determine the best way to translate this information to create motivated, engaged, passionate employees and other stakeholders. One way is to create a motivational catchphrase to use as the focal point.

The Hobo Railroad example – “Creating memories – One ride at a time” – came from an interaction between an owner and a young boy who answered the question “Why are you here?” with “I am creating memories with my dad.”

Other common examples of motivation catchphrases are:

  • Apple: Challenge the status quo.

  • Southwest Airlines: You are now free to move about the country.

  • Disney: Provide good, clean fun.

  • University of Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey: Four values – tough, grateful, disciplined, devoted.

Put it all together

As you articulate the mission, vision, values and motivational catchphrase (or other form of communication to employees) for your dairy farm or other organization, keep in mind the following two criteria:

1. They are meaningful to the owners to serve as the driver for the future and to create the willingness to work hard and to be committed and passionate.

2. They can be articulated in a form that motivates employees to work hard and be committed and passionate.  end mark

Bob Milligan