The Importance of a Vision Statement
In one of the best-known passages from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat--
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where---" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"---So long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
Likewise, as a corporate or organizational leader you can walk long and far, but if you do not have a vision of where you want to go, your destination is unlikely to be satisfying. A vision is directive; it helps you identify if you are on the right path at any given time. A vision statement is an answer to the question: “What can and should we accomplish?”
Do you have a vision? One that is written, widely known, understood, motivating and achievable? “If there is no vision,” a 1599 version of Proverbs 29:18 reads, “the people decay.” Without a vision, even energetic companies can stagnate or waste away.
Vision is a statement of held and frustrated values—what a person, team, or organization wants and lacks, but believes it can create in its best possible future. It is an evocative description of what is possible. You know where you want to go, but haven’t got there yet.
A company needs a vision that is completely geared towards achieving the overarching mission of the organization, with values that clearly set out the ethos, behaviors and attitudes by which people are expected to deliver this vision. It is part of your promise and it creates accountability and trust.
A company’s vision may be written on the hearts of its founders and leaders, but to be sure, put it on paper (and on your corporate Website). To be clear and exact and to reduce the chance of being misunderstood, it is good to write the vision statement for all to see.
Widely known and understood
Once a vision is created, it must be disseminated, so it becomes the shared vision of everyone in the organization. It is not always easy to spread a vision through the business, so the key part of creating shared vision is in articulating it and communicating it in an enduring fashion. An example of well-articulated vision is Wal-Mart's "Low prices, every day." This vision statement is clear, concise, and easy to remember.
Of course, communicating vision is more than hanging a vision statement on the wall in the lunchroom or the front lobby. The best: Leaders using every opportunity available to them to share the vision and acting in a manner consistent with the vision. Then, insisting that all managers model behaviors that are consistent with the vision.
And, make it a mantra: clear and simple. The elevator speech rule applies - any leader should be able to explain the vision to any staff member to the extent that the staff member "gets it" in 30-60 seconds. If they can't, it's either too complicated or your leaders themselves don’t understand or can’t articulate it. Repetition breeds awareness, acceptance, and understanding of your vision.
A strong vision statement paints a compelling scenario. It requires the ability to expand one’s sense of possibilities without drifting into the ethereal, and then to focus on what new initiatives can lead to this stretching yet realistic image of the future. Vision statements are motivational if they are based on shared values and if the actions of the company authenticate the truth of the vision.
A vision statement cannot be wildly impractical. Even though vision directs us to the future, it is experienced in the present. Powerful visions are never an escape from reality. A motivating and effective vision will connect today’s reality to a view of a better future. It should be achievable in the near future—within an employees’ working lifetime.
Instead of a far-off vision as the organizational aim, your employees and partners need to envision achieving the goal far sooner, so they can potentially experience the achievement as part of the team.
Do the people in your company use your vision as a guide for decision making--from strategic decisions to operational decisions? If not, it may need some work. A good vision statement informs and drives critical decisions. If a company and its leaders are instead making decisions only for immediate benefit, they may have lost sight of the vision. Every critical decision made by an organization should propel it, first, toward its vision.
The Valcort 35 Keys to Business Growth
Over many years and hundreds of client relationships and strategic marketing opportunities, we have established the Valcort 35 Keys to Business Growth, best practices that build trust, align values with products and practices, and create organic growth. We are exploring these 35 practices, one at a time, on these pages. Find them all, as they’re introduced, here.