A vision statement is a declaration of one, the most important, long-term goal for a business, non-profit or institution. Or if your organization is very large already, it could be a statement of a few long-term goals combined, all reaching far into the future. Either way, such goals need to be both challenging and inspiring because of the aspirational character of your vision statement sets a defined direction for the organization. It establishes a pulling force, guiding all activities and strategic decision-making.
A vision statement does not describe the status quo of your organization’s status and actions, rather that is what a mission does. Instead, a vision focuses on the subsequent outcomes after you complete the work. For example, if we look at a management consultancy specializing in automotive industry, the mission might be to provide analysis and advice to help implement best-practices today; but its vision might be to take that industry to the next level by preparing its manufacturers for the dawn of electric cars.
Why Every Organization Should Have a Vision
But why should you have a vision at all, stated or not? A vision defines the core reason for existence, lending purpose to day-to-day operations, making work meaningful rather than an exercise in itself.
An inspiring vision is a key to attracting, engaging and retaining talent in addition to building an appropriate organizational culture. Committing to an ultimate outcome differentiates you from others and pulls together like-minded and passionate employees, as well as the right partners and customers. It also strengthens culture through a unified sense of purpose which enhances cross-functional relationships through a shared understanding of priorities.
It improves decision making as well by providing clarity about the “big-picture” and increases focus while leveraging all resources to successfully implement a strategic plan or work on goals towards the vision.
Beyond that, be clear what unique role your vision will serve in the organization.
Foundation and Process for Building Your Vision
The effort of formulating a vision statement forces you to know your ambitions for your business by clearly stating the results you intend to create. A bold and ideal picture of the future of your organization might be tough to draw (and even tougher to achieve), but clearly expressing a definite vision is key to your long-term success, as it helps provide organizational focus and employee happiness.
However, don’t overcomplicate the process and don’t worry about trying to make it perfect the first time around. It is more important to begin the conversation with yourself and your key personnel about your prime goal and the company you are eventually trying to create or change to be a vehicle for that goal.
Most likely, the foundation for a vision statement has already formed itself — usually, something that has been articulated hundreds of times before, shaped together by the founders, managers and employees of the company. Frequently, the founders or upper management of an organization create it. Alternatively, you could hold workshops with the key stakeholders who represent a cross-section of your organization. Essential employees should either be involved in contributing to the specifics of the vision or able to see first drafts to maximize their support.
Finally, is it already, or only planned to be, aligned with your values and the culture they support? Which changes do you need to establish now to make it happen?
Writing a Perfect Vision Statement
Each organization has its individual nuances in style and wording as well as its own unique intent; despite these, there are some best practices a vision statement should incorporate:
- Vision statements are usually written down and published internally and externally.
- They can be a few words, paragraphs or span across multiple pages. The best-known ones are concise, though, only 1-2 sentences.
- While it may require a great effort to create a proper vision statement built to last, it should not require effort to understand. You should use simple and easy-to-understand language without technical jargon. This will ensure it is easily remembered and repeated. If you overcomplicate any important communication, it rarely works.
- The key to a successful vision statement lies in deeply caring about a vision that is also reflected in your organization’s values, culture and employees. If an organization cares as much about its vision, a founder or CEO deeply committed to this ultimate goal would even be ready to gracefully step down at all times, for the benefit of long-term success. Family-run businesses know this all too well.
- You need to make it yours and highly specific to your organization. It must not be interchangeable or generic, but should rather address a future towards which you are striving. One that can only be created by you, for now, given your strong desire to accomplish this dream, matched with an internal setup that is aligned to best reach that goal. You should also include both your internal (competency or value-oriented) and external (value-generating and customer-facing) perspective.
- While a vision statement’s corridor should be broad enough to cover an evolving mission that could often be impacted by outside influences like changes in customer demands or technological evolution, it still needs to express a particular outcome.
- Everything we can imagine, we can accomplish. Keep in mind, as you anticipate the future, what initially looks impossible could be doable down the road when the organization, its processes, the markets and technologies evolve. You need to force yourself to think of a future 10 to 100 years ahead, stretch your imagination and dream big.
- Use your own, simple words, but infuse them with foresight, visual thinking and emotion. Refrain from collecting buzzwords or professional-sounding but empty phrases no stakeholder would feel attached to. Buzzwords cloud the clarity of your vision by giving too much room for interpretation, turning your vision into something generic and often worn out from the start. Unfortunately, the overuse of buzzwords, something often promoted by external consulting companies involved in the creation of a vision statement, creates a disconnect. It has left most people of today’s companies either without a grasp of the vision or they feel so disconnected from it that they could not explain it, not even if its words were pinned on the wall for everyone to see. They do not know how it relates to their day job or why it matters at all.
Introducing the Newly Built Vision
Vision statements when first created often undergo quite a bit of iteration, so you might want to refrain from immediately publishing yours after the first creative workshops. Give yourself this first run to breathe life into your vision rather than focusing on polish.
When you have your final version nailed, pause your efforts and come back to it a bit later. Evaluate if it adequately describes the desired outcome and inspires you on the same level as when you left off. You might also consider pulling in outside opinions. These iterations will ensure a lasting quality to your vision because as with all things that are built to last, your vision statement will undergo only rare and subtle revisions during the existence of your organization.
At all times, you and your staff need to know what the purpose of the organization is and how to recognize success. Nothing can be more damaging than a cloudy, confused picture of where you want to go or what you want to become.
Most organizations choose to share their finalized vision statement openly by publishing it on their website or mentioning it repeatedly in marketing material and to the press. Companies should also regularly educate new and existing employees on their vision and values to equip them with the why, what, and how in addition to the cultural foundation in their everyday work life.
If you want to take your vision to the next level, we recommend to not only create your vision as a written vision statement, but also try to paint a more detailed, vivid picture of your future in the form of an image collage, presentation or corporate manual.