By definition, a vision is “something seen in a dream” or a “thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination.” Every business begins with a vision, and every successful business should have that vision in writing.
In one sentence or in one short paragraph, a vision statement clearly and concisely relates the goals of your company. It can serve as a tool for decision-making and as an inspiration for change. If you do not have a vision statement, it’s time to create one.
Why? A vision statement shares the heart of your company. Creating one forces you to focus on what is important and where you want to be as a company.
According to research conducted by Joseph Folkman, a behavioral statistician, employees who are inspired by their company’s vision have engagement levels of 68 percent, a level that is nearly 20 points above average. The more engaged your employees are, the more productive they are. These engaged employees also serve as ambassadors for your business in the local or global community.
Vision Statement Versus Mission Statement
Before we look at how to create a vision statement, let’s look at the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement. A mission statement explains the company’s purpose by describing what it does and what its overall intention is.
A vision statement, on the other hand, describes the goals of the company. It communicates the company’s core ideals that give it shape and function. An effective vision statement is forward thinking and inspirational.
Another way to look at the difference between the two statements is that a mission statement looks at the present, and a vision statement looks at the future.
For example, the Alzheimer’s Association mission statement is “To eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.”
However, the Alzheimer’s Association vision statement is “Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s disease.”
In an article for Harvard Business Review, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner write that leaders struggle with “communicating an image of the future that draws others in – that speaks to what others see and feel.” However, they stress that “being forward-looking – envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future – is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from non-leaders.”
How do you put the goals and aspirations you have for your small business into a simple statement? Begin by meeting with your key team members to consider these key questions: Where do we want the company to be in five years? What about in 10 years?
By inviting your leadership team to ponder the future of the company, you offer them the opportunity to become more invested in the future of the firm. Ask team members to get creative as they think about their aspirations for the company. The process of developing a vision statement may not be easy, but it need not be arduous. Have a little fun with it.
More Than a Catchy Phrase
Although effective vision statements are concise, your statement should be more than just a slogan or a catchy tagline. For example, Coca Cola’s new slogan for 2016 is “Taste the Feeling” but its vision statement is “To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.”
Since you are dreaming with a vision statement, do not be afraid to dream big as Coca Cola does. Think about what you hope your company will achieve. Realize that, in order for a vision statement to be motivational, it has to be a bit daring.
This important statement will help determine your perspective and priorities. In developing a vision statement for your small business, here are some ideas to consider:
- Focus on the success of your company
- Even though you are thinking about the future, use the present tense or an infinitive statement (to …)
- Use clear language and avoid ambiguity
- Communicate core values
- Refer to the service or product your provide
Writing a Vision Statement
Many companies revise their vision statements as their company grows and changes. Realize the vision statement can be a living document. For instance, Microsoft’s vision statement has undergone several incarnations. Whereas it once was “to put a computer on every desk and in every home,” it currently is “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
One way to approach your vision statement brainstorming session is to provide team members with pen and paper and ask them to imagine the company in five and in 10 years and then to answer the following questions:
- What service(s) do you offer? What products do you sell?
- Who are your clients – both generally and specifically – and where are they located?
- Where is the business located?
- Where are employees located?
- What do you do for the business?
- Are you an owner or a hands-on employee?
- What skills and training do you have?
- What is your lifestyle like?
- What is satisfying about your work?
- What does your business do better than its competitors do?
- What do customers say about your company?
- How do you feel about the company?
- What inspires you about this business?
- How would you describe the company to someone who had never heard of it?
Now gather the responses and pull out the most descriptive words and the most inspirational phrases in order to create your statement. Expect to make revisions as you develop the clearest statement. Ideally, your vision statement should reference the type of service or goods you provide as it sets new goals for the future.
To help you get started in creating your own unique vision statement, here are some examples of vision statement of companies, both large and small.
Examples of Effective Vision Statements
Amazon: “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
Anheuser-Busch – “To be the world’s beer company. Through all of our products, services and relationships, we will add to life’s enjoyment.”
Avery Dennison – “To be the world leader in products, services and solutions that enable and transform the way consumers and businesses gather, manage, distribute and communicate information.”
Avon– “To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women – globally.”
Canadian Cancer Society: “Creating a world where no Canadian fears cancer.”
Chevron – “To be the global energy company most admired for its people, partnership and performance.”
Coal India Limited – “To emerge from the position of domestic leader to leading global player in the energy sector by adopting best practices from mine to market with due care to environmental and social sustenance.”
DuPont – “To be the world’s most dynamic science company, creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer and healthier life for people everywhere.
EBay: – “To provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything.”
IKEA– “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”
Milwaukee Public Library– “Providing the best in library service, we guide Milwaukeeans in their pursuit of knowledge, enjoyment, and lifelong learning, ultimately enriching lives and our community as a whole.”
Nordstrom – “In store or online, wherever new opportunities arise, Nordstrom, works relentlessly to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible. The one constant? John W. Nordstrom’s founding philosophy: offer the customers the best possible service, selection, quality and value.”
Norfolk Southern– “To be the safest, most customer-focused and successful transportation company in the world.”
North Point Church–“To create a church that unchurched people love to attend.”
Vaguer Is Not Better
After studying these examples, you will notice that there is no one-size-fits-all vision statement. These examples are quite different in tone and in content, yet they all speak to the future and share a goal.
An effective vision statement is general enough so that it will not easily become outdated, but is specific enough that it is identifiable to that company. Some large corporations have vision statements that are quite broad and general. Consider Alcoa’s vision statement, for instance: “To be the best company in the world, in the eyes of our customers, shareholders, communities and people.”
Although becoming “the best company in the world” certainly is an admirable goal, the statement lacks any specifics on what Alcoa does and how it will attain that goal.
If you did not know Albertsons was a chain of grocery stores, you certainly would not learn that information from its vague vision statement: “To create a shopping experience that pleases our customers; a workplace that creates opportunities and a great working environment for our associates; and a business that achieves financial success.”
Here is another example of a vague vision statement: “To build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Patagonia does tell you about its concern for the environment, but you have no idea from reading the statement that it is a clothing company that specializes in sustainable outdoor clothing.
Now that you know what a visions statement is, why it is important and how to go about writing one, it is time to get started. Do not waste this important opportunity for sharing your goals with your employees, with your customers and with the general public.
As Jack Welch, who served as chairperson and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001 once said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
Do you have a favorite vision statement either from your own business or from another business? Please share it with us.