Business Directory defines a Vision Statement as "an aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future. It is intended to serve as a clear guide for choosing current and future courses of action."
Don’t confuse a vision statement with a road map for a business's future success; it's not. What Bill Gates envisioned when he first started Microsoft was a personal computer in every home and business, not a series of steps for making that happen. One of Elon Musk's visions is that humankind will be able to travel to Mars and live there. While his company SpaceX designs and launches spacecraft intended to eventually make that happen, there is no guarantee of their success.The vision statement is not tied to the details. That's why it's important when crafting a vision statement to let your imagination go and dare to dream - and why it's important that a vision statement captures your passion.
A Vision Statement:
- Defines the optimal desired future state, the mental picture, of what an organization wants to achieve over time
- Provides guidance and inspiration as to what an organization is focused on achieving in five, ten, or more years
- Functions as the "north star"—it is what all employees understand their work every day ultimately contributes towards accomplishing over the long term
- Is written succinctly in an inspirational manner that makes it easy for all employees to repeat it at any given time.
Characteristics of a Vision Statement
A consensus does not exist on the characteristics of a "good" or "bad" vision statement. Commonly cited traits include:
- concise: able to be easily remembered and repeated
- clear: defines a prime goal
- future-oriented: describes where the company is going rather than the current state
- stable: offers a long-term perspective and is unlikely to be impacted by market or technology changes
- challenging: not something that can be easily met and discarded
- abstract: general enough to encompass all of the organization's interests and strategic direction
- inspiring: motivates employees and is something that employees view as desirable
Writing a Vision Statement - The Process
While there may be vision statements out there that will not conform to the process below – below is an example of the process that may be followed to write a good vision statement.
- Step 1: Define what you do as an output: Start by being exceptionally clear about what it is your organisation actually does. Be careful to remain ‘output focused’ rather than ‘input focused’. For example, Microsoft famously had a vision statement to Put a Microsoft powered computer on every desk in the world (slightly paraphrased). Strictly speaking what Microsoft ‘do’ is make computer software, but for the purposes of their Vision, they looked forward to the actual outcome of this process – i.e. computers on desks. Let’s look at some other hypothetical examples:
- A bakery makes bread. But the outcome is consumers enjoying that bread.
- A consulting company gives advice. But the outcome is the success of others based on that advice.
- A government department does…lots of things. But the outcome is better lives for the citizens they serve.
Whilst this process may seem obvious – you would be surprised by how rarely organizations actually go through this process in a formal, written way. Doing so will take you a long way towards creating your vision statement – BUT it’s not enough alone! If it was, all bakeries for example would have the same vision statement – which is hardly inspiring!
- Step 2: Define what unique twist your organisation brings to the above outcome: Very few products or services these days are truly new – most are more like reinventions of something that exists already, but with a different approach, focus or spin. At some point in your organization’s lifespan – someone will have believed that the reason that THIS organization would be successful where others have failed, was because of………something. You need to define that something! Let’s take our bakery example. So far, our vision statement is looking pretty generic, along the lines of customers enjoying our bread. But why will they enjoy our bread MORE than the bread from the place next door? Is it because we use centuries old traditions passed through generations of our family? Because we only use premium grade locally sourced ingredients? Whatever your unique selling point is – let it shine through in your vision statement.
- Step 3: Apply some high-level quantification: A common problem with vision statements is ironically, that they are too visionary! With no possible end in sight (or a totally unrealistic one) – the initial inspiration derived from a great vision statement can quickly turn to frustration, or even cynicism among employees and customers. That said – don’t be too specific or apply specific metrics at this stage (they will come later in our planning process). Sticking with our bakery example – we might want to refine our audience to ‘every customer who walks through the door’ – that’s fine, or maybe we want to be bolder: ‘every customer within walking distance of a store’. The quantification we apply could also be industry specific if you’re a Business-to-Business (B2B) – are you shooting for SMEs or multinationals for example.
- Step 4: Add relatable, human, ‘real world’ aspects: Your vision by this point should be getting pretty close to being finished. But one final trick you can apply to help make it even more memorable is to add a real-life aspect so that people can conjure up a solid mental image to associate with your vision statement. Let’s look at an example – which of the following statements is likely to be more memorable:
- a) To have every working person in the world using Microsoft product. or…
- b) A Microsoft powered computer on every desk.
Most people would find that (b) is more memorable, because as they read this, they are actually be visualizing a computer sitting on a wooden desk in their room. There’s nothing wrong with (a) but it’s highly conceptual and thus difficult to transform into a mental picture. Let’s look at another example:
"Ensure that every customer who leaves our store, does so smiling."
Here, using the word ‘smiling’ as opposed to ‘happy’ is powerful, because it conjures a mental image of a person smiling. It won’t always be possible to bring this level of tangibility to your vision statement – but it is what you must aim to do..
- Bringing it all together
Based on this process a completed vision statement for the bakery mentioned above, could read something like this
"Producing and selling locally sourced cakes and pies that are so delicious and satisfying, that every customer who leaves our store does so with a smile."
Deconstructing this vision statement into the various steps in the process would work as follows:
Step 1 – The output
Step 2 – The twist
Step 3 – The quantification
Step 4 – The human connection
Vision Statement vs. Mission Statement
- Before determining what your vision statement is, you need to understand what it is not. It should not be confused with a mission statement. Those statements are present-based and designed to convey a sense of why the company exists, to both members of the company and the external community. Vision statements are future-based and are meant to inspire and give direction to the employees of the company, rather than to customers.
- "A mission statement illustrates the purpose of the company, what it does and what it intends on achieving. Its main function is to provide direction to the company and highlight what it needs to do to achieve its vision," said Joel Klein, business, marketing consultant and producer of BizTank, a SharkTank-style platform. "Meanwhile, a vision statement illustrates where the company would like to see itself further down the line, what it hopes to achieve and what its goals are."
- A mission statement answers the question, "Why does my business exist?" A vision statement answers the question, "Where do I see my business going?"
- Jamie Falkowski, vice president of creative and experience at the marketing communications firm Day One Agency, said, "A vision is aspiration. A mission is actionable."
- Vision Statements: Why You Need One and How to Create One Entrepreneur
- How To Write a Vision Statement - a video presentation OnStrategy
- Importance of a Vision Statement to an Organisation Business Review Kenya
- Why Mission and Vision Statements Seldom Drive Discussion -- and Why That Should Change IndustryWeek
- Key Findings of 30 Example Vision Statements TopNonProfits