Vision statements drive me to despair. They should be a means by which we describe a desired outcome that invokes a vivid mental picture of our goal. As leaders, a vision statement should inspire and energise us, our subordinates, our colleagues and our other stakeholders.
A vision statement should be what we return to whenever we get confused about our business goal or its subordinate business objectives.
A vision statement should contain a summary statement that is memorable and enhances the effectiveness of our vision statement by acting as a trigger to the rest of the vision in the minds of those people who read it. A summary statement is not THE vision statement.
A vision statement should say something about us, our organisation, our operating environment, our dream. When we read it, it should tell us where we are going. We should not be able to substitute our vision statement for other organisations inside and outside our industry.
What do we get instead from some of our leading corporations? Vision statements that offer no inspiration, no energy, no destination and no difference from other organisations.
Take Coca-Cola’s vision statement:
“To achieve sustainable growth, we have established a vision with clear goals.
Profit: Maximizing return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall responsibilities.
People: Being a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can be.
Portfolio: Bringing to the world a portfolio of beverage brands that anticipate and satisfy peoples; desires and needs.
Partners: Nurturing a winning network of partners and building mutual loyalty.
Planet: Being a responsible global citizen that makes a difference.”
That vision statement could be for almost any commercial organisation with shareholders. Take out the reference to shareholders and beverages and it can apply to a large number of non-profit organisations too.
It is a statement full of motherhood and business speak words which carry little meaning simply because they are so open to interpretation by the reader. They carry little meaning overall because they carry all meanings to all people.
I am being harsh to illustrate a point, but surely an organisation with Coca-Cola’s human resources could come up with something more inspiring than that.
Compare it with this vision statement for a restaurant:
“Our restaurant is a place where people come to relax, have a good time, and enjoy a great meal. [The short memorable summary phrase]
From the moment our customers walk in the door, they are greeted by a warm atmosphere, subtle music, and friendly and courteous staff.
We cater to large groups that are out to have fun, as well as romantic dinners for people celebrating a special occasion. The restaurant is packed full of customers, and yet we efficiently avoid long delays while they are being seated and while their food is prepared.
The lighting, table arrangements, atmosphere, and decorations all encourage our customers to relax, let go of their concerns, and open up to new taste sensations. We provide exceptional service all night long.
When they are done, we take care of their check quickly and efficiently. They leave happy, satisfied, but not overly bloated or full. They leave with the desire of just one more bite of our wonderful food.”
How clear is that about what we want to achieve as a restaurant? It doesn’t make any statements about profits, assuming they will come if we achieve our vision.
On a more grand corporate scale is Microsoft’s summary vision statement:
“There will be a personal computer on every desk running Microsoft software.” [Short, simple, unequivocal, memorable and long term]
“To build the largest and most complete Amateur Radio community site on the Internet” [I can quibble about what complete means but not largest, amateur, radio, community and site and it is short and memorable]
A poor vision summary statement is GM’s:
“GM’s vision is to be the world leader in transportation products and related services. We will earn our customers’ enthusiasm through continuous improvement driven by the integrity, teamwork, and innovation of GM people.” [It is not short, it is not simple, it is not memorable and contains too many words open to interpretation of meaning]
The components of a good vision statement
Good vision statements have common components:
- It is written in the present, not future tense. They describe what we will feel, hear, think, say and do as if we had reached our vision now.
- It is summarised with a powerful phrase. That phrase forms the first paragraph of the vision statement. The powerful phrase is repeated in whatever communication mediums you have to trigger memory of the longer statement. It is not a brand strap-line.
- It describes an outcome, the best outcome we can achieve. It does not confuse vision with the business goal and objectives for a particular period of time. A vision statement, therefore, does not provide numeric measures of success.
- It uses unequivocal language. It does not use business speak or words like maximise or minimise.
- It evokes emotion. It is obviously and unashamedly passionate. However, it separates the hard aspect of vision in what we see, hear and do from the soft aspect of vision in what we think and feel.
- It helps build a picture, the same picture, in people’s minds.
Build vision statement with these components and we run the risk of informing, inspiring and energising our people.