‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.’
The Cheshire Cat
Putting that another way, if you do know where you are going, you’ll know which road to take to get there. That’s what a company’s vision statement is for. By putting in the effort to frame a tangible vision for your future, you can then begin work today to eventually make the vision a reality.
Substantially different from a mission statement , which talks about what a company does, a vision statement talks about what a company aspires to do. Without a clear vision, positive, sustainable growth into the future is impossible.
“Vision – It reaches beyond the thing that is, into the conception of what can be. Imagination gives you the picture. Vision gives you the impulse to make the picture your own.”
A vision statement is an ‘idealised’ view of your company in the future – it should inspire, energise and stimulate. It should also be market-oriented and express how the business wants to be perceived by the world.
Your vision statement answers the question, “Where do we want to go?” / “What do we want to be?” A vision statement is not about where the company currently is, but where the company hopes – more, intends – to be one day. It is an indispensible guide for current and future strategic planning.
A vision statement
- is the dream that inspires you and your team
- is a tool to help you shape your future
- aligns your team
- promotes change, acting as a guide for decision-making
Visions are long-term goals greater than anything you can achieve today. While a mission statement says what a company will or will not do, and a values statement says what skills or attributes the company culture values, a vision statement says where the company wants to go in the future.
The purpose of the vision statement is to inspire, energize, motivate, and stimulate your creativity, not to serve as a yardstick for success; that is the function of your objectives and goals.
It sets the direction for your strategic and business planning, without specifically setting out the steps to be taken.
The vision statement sets out the purpose and values of the organization and gives employees direction about how they are expected to behave while inspiring them to work hard. Therefore, unlike the mission statement, a vision statement is primarily an internal document, for you and your team, not for your customers. (However, if you craft a vision statement you can be proud of it can be a powerful communications and marketing tool – showing that your company knows exactly where it is heading and why).
Crafting a vision statement
Your vision statement should express your passion for your business, using compelling and memorable language and always describing the optimal outcome. They are intended to inspire, motivate and energize the people involved in the enterprise.
The best vision statements describe desired outcomes that are five to ten years down the line – some may look even further than that.
Creating a ‘Vision’ is very much a process – sometimes agonisingly time-consuming. But it MUST be done – otherwise without a clear strategic direction you run the risk of meandering aimlessly.
Note, though, that although this is the place for lofty ideals and ambitious dreams, realism is essential – you need to consider your capabilities, limitations, the competitive environment, etc. There’s no point setting yourself up for failure by aspiring to impossible goals.
The Big Five
- Does everyone know, understand and embrace the vision?
- Does everyone know what they must do to perform in a way that is fully aligned with the vision?
- Is everyone openly acknowledged for performing in a way that is consistent with the vision?
- Is everyone corrected for performing in a manner inconsistent with the vision?
- Is everyone totally supported and empowered to perform in a manner consistent with the vision?
Renowned strategists Kaplan and Norton suggest a troika of vital components:
- Stretch goal
- Definition of niche
- Time horizon
They go on to state:
‘Great leaders set ambitious targets for their organisations. The vision statement should declare, at the highest organisational level, ambitious targets for the strategy, including a clear measure of success and a specific time horizon for achievement.’
Another suggestion from Kaplan and Norton is to use the Balanced Scorecard’s four perspectives to craft an “enhanced” vision – providing a comprehensive picture of the enabling factors to achieve the vision, including the customer value proposition, key processes, and the intangible assets of people and technology. This forces and requires deeper thinking about the practicality and meaning of the vision.
For example, StrategyPal’s vision statement is simple and succinct:
“To develop StrategyPal into the most effective, most respected and most widely used strategic mentoring system in Ireland, the UK and beyond by 2016.”
However, it provides little guidance for shaping and developing the strategy. This gives rise to the need for an “enhanced” vision.
In the Learning & Growth Perspective we identify:
the strategic competencies required
- strategic sales and marketing capabilities
- making every mentor matter and wanting every mentor to stay
- championing customer-service and building relationships
and the technology enablers of the strategy
- always pushing the boundaries
- cutting edge SaaS and ICT development
- apps development
- integration with aligned applications
- always working on the next release / update
In the Internal Process Perspective – the need to mobilise Operations, Customer and Innovation Management Processes in
- acquiring and retaining mentors
- leading, inspiring and motivating mentors
- mentor relationship management enabling us to build enduring strategic alliances and partnerships with mentors
In the Customer Perspective we clarify how we will create value for the customer:
- mentors use StrategyPal to create value for their clients
- increasing client acquisition rates for mentors
- increasing client retention rates for mentors
- and allowing management of more clients by mentors
In the Financial Perspective we identify what we need to do:
- sell to new mentors
- retain existing mentors
- broaden and deepen services range
- and specify a stretch target 250 mentors – and a time horizon – by 2016
Example Vision Statements
“To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfilment needs of women – globally”.
Now there’s a vision. It’s ambitious, relevant and drives decision-making today.
In board meetings, you can hear the CEO asking ‘how does this show that we best understand women’s needs?’
“To create new value, excite and delight our customers through the best automotive products and services”.
You may argue that this is close to a mission statement – isn’t that what they already do?
But look closely. The word ‘new’ means that whatever they’ve done before isn’t good enough; they are always striving for better.
“We will destroy Yamaha”.
“To be a company that our shareholders, customers and society want”.
Their 1970 vision couldn’t be clearer! They also didn’t achieve it, which is probably why they wrote a new one.
The new one, however, is dull as dishwater and could apply to absolutely any company.
“Become the Harvard of the West”.
Reversing Honda’s negative use of a nemesis, Stanford chose the pinnacle of the ivy league as a role model and, arguably, achieved that vision.
“We will increase the value of our company and our global portfolio of diversified brands by exceeding customers’ expectations and achieving market leadership and operating excellence in every segment of our company”.
This is an example of a generic vision statement, probably built by committee, that has no practical function for planning, strategy or decision-making.
Translated, it reads: we’ll do better.
Toys R Us
“To put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parents’ faces”.
This sounds lovely.
It’s also not a vision statement, because isn’t that what they purport to be doing every day?
This is a statement of mission, not vision.
(Although when the kids dash up and down the aisles, near bursting with sensory overload, are their parents really smiling?)