Vision statements are brief, vivid, inspiring and forward looking summaries of what an organization or person wants the world or themselves to be. They are helpful direction setting tools that are useful early in the strategic planning process.Summary by The World of Work Project
Vision statements are direction setting tools for strategic planning. They are brief, vivid, inspiring and forward looking summaries of what an organization or person wants the world or themselves to be.
The starting point of any journey of achievement is to decide what you want to achieve, and this is exactly what vision statements help organizations and individuals do. By creating and sharing a vision for the future, organizations or individuals create an aspirational goal to work towards, and a message that helps them share this goal with their stakeholders.
The briefer, more inspiring and more vivid a vision is, the more effective it will be. Visions are, however, only the starting point for entities or individuals looking to achieve.
Once a vision of the future has been created, organizations or individuals need to decide what their role is in helping to bring this vision to life. These summaries of their role are often referred to as “Mission” or “Purpose” statements. Visions and missions are in turn the starting point for any strategic analysis, design or planning.
Visions can also be thought of as ordinal decision making tools. What this means is that when employees are faced with a choice between two options they should be able to ask themselves “which option aligns most with our vision?”, and feel comfortable pursuing whichever options is most aligned.
Who Has Vision Statements
Many different types of groups benefit from having vision statements including:
- Companies, partnerships and for profit groups should have them
- Divisions and sub-teams within organizations often benefit from having their own vision and mission statements
- Charitable and third sector organizations should have them
- Social groups and other organizations often benefit from them as they can help bring people together and set direction
- Some individuals choose to have personal vision statements as part of their development process
What makes a good vision statement?
Not all vision statements are created equally. Good statements are inspiring, effective and can instill pride, while bad statements can confuse and disengage a wide range of stakeholders. So what makes a good vision statement?
Future focused – Good vision statements look to the future and describe or capture the sense of an idealized destination that will take some time to reach.
Inspiring – Vision statements should describe an inspiring future state that people feel motivated to achieve. Many vision statements seek to represent an improvement in world of the lives of an organization’s stakeholders.
Stretching – The destination that visions describe should require effort to achieve. They should be challenging enough that achieving them feels rewarding, but not so challenging that they feel impossible and not worth pursuing.
Vivid – The best vision statements help people visualize the future they are trying to capture. Vision statements also usually aspire to generate an emotional response in the people who read them.
Clear and simple – Clarity and simplicity are important for vision statements. The best ones clearly convey a powerful vision in simple, accessible language.
Unique – For a vision to feel special it should feel unique. While many organizations and individuals operate in the same areas, each of them should have their own framing of the future they wish to create.
Relevant – For a vision to be meaningful, it needs to be relevant to the organization or individual creating it. The future it depicts should be one that can be influenced by the organizations strengths, capabilities, products and people.
Examples of vision statements
Most large organizations now have vision statements. If you search through “corporate affairs” sections of corporate websites, you’ll usually be able to find an organization’s vision. It’s worth noting that organizational visions change over time as leaders come and go and strategies and market places evolve. The following vision statements are examples that we quite like from the point in time that we wrote this post:
- Ikea – A better every-day life for many people.
- Alzheimer’s Association – A world without Alzheimer’s disease.
- Google – To provide access to the world’s information in one click.
The World of Work Project View
It is easy to dismiss vision statements as pompous management speak, but they are actually very useful and most organizations should have them.
They’re helpful at all levels of an organization and for communication with wider stakeholders. Where they fall down is when they are clearly dishonest, unclear and full of jargon, or where they are overly grandiose and self-important.
In our view the best vision statements are co created with the employees and wider stakeholders of an organization. This isn’t always possible, particularly in large organizations, but it is something that even they can aspire to.
A real test for organizations is whether they actually back people up who act in line with the vision. This isn’t always the case. For example, ethics may take a back seat to profit, regardless of what a corporate vision says. Where the espoused vision of the organization is not backed up by leadership actions, problems will occur.
Sources and further reading
Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.
This post has been informed primarily by our experiences over our careers and does not reference any specific sources.
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