A business vision is a vivid mental image of what you want your business to be at some point in the future, based on your goals and aspirations. Having a vision will give your business a clear focus, and can stop you heading in the wrong direction. The best way to formalize and communicate the vision you have for your business is to write a vision statement.
The rare ability to balance continuity and change–requiring a consciously practiced discipline–is closely linked to the ability to develop a vision. Vision provides guidance about what to preserve and what to change. A new prescriptive framework adds clarity and rigor to the vague and fuzzy vision concepts at large today. The framework has two principal parts: core ideology and envisioned future. Core ideology combines an organization’s core values and core purpose. It’s the glue that holds a company together as it grows and changes. Core values are an organization’s essential and enduring tenets–the values it would hold even if they became a competitive disadvantage; core purpose is the organization’s fundamental reason for being. The second component of the vision framework is the envisioned future. First, a company must identify bold stretch goals; then it should articulate vivid descriptions of what it will mean to achieve them. Henry Ford set the goal of democratizing the automobile, then told the world, “When I’m through…everyone will have one. The horse will have disappeared from our highways”–an imaginative stretch for the time.
Defining Your Business's Vision
The following simple steps will help define your company vision and to help make your vision a reality
- Know your goals
Setting appropriate goals is an art. Anyone who has done it successfully will tell you that goal setting helps them accomplish more than they even realized was possible. Setting goals includes not only where you plan to end up but the steps that will get you there. In establishing your company’s vision, consider your goals. Consider what your strategy will be, but separate your endgame from that and include it as one factor in creating your company vision. Goals, however, are not the only piece of the puzzle.
- Consider your company’s values
Every company has values, whether implicit or explicit. Another challenge in creating a company vision is defining these values. These can be simple one word phrases, such as “innovation” and “communication.” They can also be slightly longer, for example, “access to education for all” or “adding a personal touch to healthcare.” You may discover that what you want your company’s values to be are not what they are in the current moment. This type of self discovery is important and factors into creating your vision. When you have defined the values by which you conduct business or hope to conduct business, lay them out side by side with your goals. Understand how these categories interact and what you can create from the sum of their parts. Those are two of the main ingredients that go into your company vision.
- Building on a mission statement for a great company vision
Obviously if you run a law firm, your vision won’t be to transform the company into a restaurant chain. This is a silly and extreme example, but the point it makes is that for your vision to grow organically and develop properly, it must be an extension of what you already do successfully. You should look to your mission statement as a jumping off point for your vision. Carefully consider where your organization is in the present before moving on to your vision. Write out your mission if a mission statement doesn’t already exist, and again lie this side by side with the goals and values you have already established. These three ingredients together are what you will consider in building your vision. Beyond these, the rest of the steps in defining your company vision deal with refining and solidifying it.
- A simple company vision is key
Keeping your vision simple serves a twofold purpose. On the one hand, you need your employees to understand and support the vision. They cannot accomplish either of these if it’s overly complicated. Additionally, keeping your vision simple makes it more likely that you will meet your goals and turn your vision into a reality. A complicated vision is a sign that it is reaching in too many directions, which will limit the quality of each in the end, or that you have added steps you will later discover to be unnecessary. All of this will keep you from concentrating your energy in the direction where it will go furthest. Carefully consider what parts of your vision are absolutely necessary and dispose of the chaff with the knowledge that you’re guaranteeing yourself a higher quality final product.
- Don’t be ambiguous
This step can be difficult as you’re building a list of desires that aren’t based in what you’re actively accomplishing on a day to day basis, but make no mistake that specificity is key. While lofty, your vision still needs to be so clear that you can show it to five independent observers and they can all come up with the exact same interpretation. Keeping your vision simple, as described in the previous step, helps greatly in staving off ambiguity. In fact, these two steps are important for very similar reasons. Ambiguity makes it difficult for both employees and you to make your vision into reality. There are two practices that promote specificity, as well as having benefits for many other reasons. Write your vision down and speak it out loud. In your head much more ambiguity will live on than you even realize. Writing and speaking force you to put it into concrete terms. Follow this up with editing, not only immediately after, but a week or a month after you originally write it. Perspective and distance are almost as good as having a second pair of eyes on your project.
- Be forward thinking
This has been implied in previous steps that focused on building your vision based on your mission. However, it’s worth reiterating that your vision should be forward thinking. This means thinking of what your industry’s landscape will look like in the future. It also means considering how to keep your vision sustainable and scalable. A vision that cannot sustain rapid growth always runs the risk of holding back your business, or worse. Consider how to carry your business on for years to come. This brings us to our final step in defining your company vision.
- Establish timeframes
Though your vision should look into the future, that does not mean you should look indefinitely into the future. Have a specific timeline for when you intend to meet certain milestones. This even applies to the more nebulous elements of your vision, not only your concrete goals. This is where the ideas of creating a vision and setting goals intersect. Both require a timeline. Goals in turn are made up of smaller goals and milestones. Along your journey you make it to each of those small victories, and eventually those take you to your completed goal. A number of goals then come together, along with the other elements we discussed to form the infrastructure of your vision.
The Importance of a Business Vision
The ability to visualize and articulate a possible future state for an organization or company has always been a vital component of successful leadership. In fact, when initially describing someone as a “great business leader,” the knee-jerk reaction is often to cite something about his or her strategic ability or vision. We often hear stories of exalted CEOs and their strategic prowess. The downfall of many a failed CEO has also been attributed to his or her lack of vision. And in many cases, with 20-20 hindsight, it is easy to understand and sympathize with a leader’s vision. In the heat of the moment, however, it is not so easy. It Has become increasingly apparent that vision can be both directly impacted by and conceived through the context of the times. Vision divorced from context can produce very erratic and unpredictable results. The irrationality of the 1920s and again in the Internet-crazed 1990s demonstrated vision that was not grounded in reality. Great business leaders need to walk the fine line between capitalizing on the opportunities that are ripe for the present context and planning for a possible future state. Though context is very important for laying the foundation for success, leaders are not mere pawns. Good leaders can and do shape the parameters for success through a vision for a future. And, just as important, they possess the ability to oversee that vision’s implementation.
- A vision inspires action. A powerful vision pulls in ideas, people and other resources. It creates the energy and will to make change happen. It inspires individuals and organizations to commit, to persist and to give their best.
- A vision is a practical guide for creating plans, setting goals and objectives, making decisions, and coordinating and evaluating the work on any project, large or small.
- A vision helps keep organizations and groups focused and together, especially with complex projects and in stressful times.
- Not every picture is a vision. Your vision should:
- Be clear - so sharp and so detailed that you can see, smell and taste the smallest details.
- Be positive.Acknowledge the difficulties, but don’t try to motivate yourself or others with a vision of bad things that might happen if you don’t succeed. A vision based on fear may help fuel immediate action, but it can also limit your results to damage control rather than getting to positive change.
- Be big enough. Create a bigger picture of the effects of your work than just solving the problem at hand. A vision that’s too small may not provide enough inspiration, or generate enough energy, to get you past the tough spots. It might even close your mind to what you could achieve.
- Include changes in attitudes. The challenge you see in front of you is only the part of the problem you can see—the rest of the challenge is deeper and often involves personal attitudes that may be strongly held.
- Include a clear picture of your personal role, not just that of your organization, if you’re in one. This isn’t about ego. It’s about you taking full responsibility for helping achieve the results you want.
- Come from the heart, not the head. Don’t try to think your way to a vision. To create a vision that’s exciting and compelling, you’ve got to give yourself the freedom to dream—to use your imagination to see and feel what does not yet exist. A vision is not the same as goals or objectives; those come from the head. A vision comes from the heart.
Vision Vs. Mission
- Mission answers the question “Why do we exist?”
- Vision answers the question “What will the future look like as we fulfill our mission? What will be different?”
- While mission is about today, vision is about the future, what we will become.
- Your mission can and should be written in a short, concise statement. It should pass the “T-shirt” test, meaning, it should be able to be printed on a t-shirt and still be readable. The vision needs to be more than a statement. It should be a description. This description may be a paragraph or a whole page. It should paint a picture of the future that will come to be as we carry out our mission.
- Your Company Vision: If It's Complicated, It Shouldn't Be Forbes
- Your Company’s Purpose Is Not Its Vision, Mission, or Values Harvard Business Review
- Defining Your Company’s Vision Fast Company
- The Company: Business Vision, Mission, and Values Shopify
- Why a clear vision is so important to running a successful business John Walters