Vision Statement Nirvana in Four Easy Steps

Vision StatementWhether your business is a start-up or you’ve been at it for years, whether by intention or accident, there comes a moment when you long for greater clarity about what it is that you’re striving toward.

There comes a moment when you realize you’re in search of a vision statement – the meaningful embodiment of everything you want your business to become and the benefits you want to see from it.

Getting square on your Business Values is an absolute prerequisite for crafting a successful Vision Statement, so if you haven’t done that, go check out this article before continuing.

The Case for a Clear Vision Statement

In case it’s not self-evident why focusing your efforts around a vision statement is a good thing, let’s take a closer look at that and what a vision statement is.

You do not hire employees simply to fill a role in your company.

You hire employees because their particular presence is required in order to achieve your Vision Statement and fulfill your Mission Statement (which we’ll get to). You hire them because they provide value toward the value your business is trying to provide to you and your customers.

It makes sense, then, that those employees you hire ought to be crystal clear on what the Vision Statement is and how they fit into it.

In their simplest form, the Vision Statement is about what the business is and the value it provides you, where as the Mission Statement is about what the business does and the value it provides the customer.

The Vision Statement, then, is about the business as an entity.  The Vision Statement is about what the business is aiming to become; not necessary where the business is today, but the vision for where the business is headed.  The vision statement isn’t directly about the clients and the value the business provides, but about the business itself, what it is and what it will be  (as opposed to the Mission, which is about the value the business provides).

To get even clearer on what the vision statement is about, here’s a a good compare and contrast between the vision statement and the mission statement:

The Vision Statement is:

  • Directional vs Definitional – It gives the business a bearing, staking the ground with an industry to operate from, a customer to serve, and an offering to go to market with.
  • Future-Focused vs. Here-and-Now – It describes what the business is striving to become in the future in deep detail.
  • You-focused vs. Customer-focused – The Vision Statement is about your business and the results you want to see from it.  While the customer will never be ignored in the process, your goals come first.
  • Aspirational vs. Rooted – The Vision Statement should aim big for the future.  Put it this way: if you  just aim to “keep the doors open” and miss, you’re out of business.  Aim higher.  Leaders who aim for a sound, substantial vision put better building blocks in place.  And if they miss, they’ve got the power to rebound.

How We Lose Our Way

It’s remarkably easy to drift away from the clarity of a well-formed vision statement. Here are the most common ways I see it happen:

  • Never really start with a vision statement to begin with.
    I’m never surprised by the size of business I find that has more of a vision cloud than a vision statement – a loosely collected fog of ideas of what the business should be rather than a crisp set of definitions regarding what the business will be. It’s just easier that way. We’re afraid of being wrong, or looking foolish. Afraid of putting down on paper impossible things.A vision statement provides needed definition. If you’re afraid your vision statement doesn’t ring true or isn’t achievable, usually this means you haven’t defined it with respect to your own values and it does not captivate you. Simply try again until it rings true.
  • Outgrow the old vision statement.
    In the best of cases, we’ve taken the time to define a vision statement. And then time goes by. The business changes. Opportunities come and go. Technology changes. Things that are possible now weren’t even dreamt of when we crafted the vision statement. We’ve literally outgrown it.That’s why it’s important to not only revisit the vision statement at least once a year, but to incorporate it into daily management; to talk about it, set goals from it, and achieve those goals.
  • Time Suckers.
    Steven Covey calls these things “urgent but not important.” I call them time suckers because they suck the time from the day and the life from your soul. These are all the must-do tasks that keep you occupied in a heads-down fashion, unable to look to the future and see if you’re still on course for anything that matters. It’s not unusual to go for months or years chained to time suckers, but the result is usually burn-out, questioning the meaning of your efforts.

Maintaining vision takes constant vigilance to maintain first focus on things that build ultimate value in your business.

The Secret to Crafting Clear Vision

What Doesn’t Work

The usual advice for writing your vision statement typically says, “Picture what you want your business to be like five years from now and describe it in detail.” For very few people – very few – that works well. If that includes you, great. For most of us, that fails miserably because we have no connection of our own to “five years from now.” We don’t value “five years” in a meaningful way, and it’s hard to picture it.

Instead, we’re going to go through four steps that do work and that you can relate to.

The Four Steps to Crafting a Vision Statement

1) First, Each Owner Works Independently

It’s quite typical for the owners to have different opinions on what the business is, or what value it should produce. This may be a simple difference in perspective, or it may be because the owners are in different life positions with regard to the business. For example, one desires to get out and retire, while the rest remain focused on growth.

These perspectives are not necessarily at odds with one another, they’re simply different perspectives. As such, they’re best explored and developed independently. For this reason, I always ask my owners to initially work alone when doing their vision statement pre-work.

2) Identify a Reach Goal Based on What You Value

A critical step in crafting any vision statement is to establish a “reach goal” – a stretch goal that envisions the business well beyond where it is today. As I’ve already said, the typical but ineffective way to do this is to is to pick a time in the future and imagine the business at that time.

There’s a much better way, and it begins with your Business Values.

Pick the top one or two business values that matter most to you and establish your reach goal in those terms.

For example, say that your #1 business value was Reward. Then in that case, think in money terms.  If you’re a $10M business, what would it look like to be a $20M or even a $30M business. Use that as your guide as you follow the rest of the steps an envision your company.

Perhaps the #1 value of your organization is Service, whether for-profit or non-profit. Then if you currently reach 5,000 clients, what would it look like to reach 10,000 or even 15,000 clients?

Putting your reach goal in these terms – your business values – makes the goal much more meaningful to you personally. It makes it real and tangible, and easier to imagine the realities that would have to be brought about in order to bring about this vision.

So your output for this step toward crafting your vision statement should be a clear reach goal that stretches the imagination of your organization, but which does so using the language of your business values.

3) Answer Simple Questions

No matter what business value you started with, and no matter what reach goal you set, other things must come true in order to fulfill that vision.

In this step, I simply want to ask you several questions. Your job is to answer those questions within the context of what would be required in order to make your reach goal come true. Don’t answer about your business today. Answer what must happen to achieve the reach goal.

  1. What business is the business in?
  2. You will have annual revenues of: ?
    Through what product lines? Distributed according to what %?
  3. You will have annual profits of: ?
    Through what product lines? Distributed according to what %?
  4. Do you get paid for providing a commodity, providing solutions and consultation, or both?
  5. Is your business based on one-time, recurring, or continuity (fully-automatic recurring) transactions?
  6. Whom do you serve? Consumers? Businesses? Government? Which is best, and why?
  7. Where will the business be located? Headquarters? Other locations? Regional? National? International?
  8. How many FTE employees will the company have?
  9. Provide the most detailed description you can of your Perfect Client for your services. Include at minimum:
    Their demographics – Age, gender, location, buying power, title, typical company profile, etc.
    Their needs/issues – What they worry about, why they switch vendors, what makes them angry, etc.
    Their psychographics – Are they quick/slow to decide, assertive/passive, outgoing/reserved, steady/hectic, etc.
    Their profitability – What is the perfect client worth to you, and why. What aspects make them good financial risk.
  10. What will your personal gain be?
  11. What will your organization be known for?
  12. What is the over-arching purpose of the organization?
  13. What accomplishments, achievements, or awards will you have attained?
  14. How will your customers regard you, think about you, or speak of you to others?
  15. To what are you committed?

Pay particular attention to these last five questions. Many people find them challenging, but they can also be the most rewarding.

4) Combine Your Work and Craft a Statement

By this point, when you look at the answers you’ve written, certain words or phrases should start to jump off the page. Trust me, you’ll know them when you see them. They ring more true. They resonate with you. They inspire you and make you want to strive to attain them. Underline them, circle them, do something to call your attention to them.

Get the owners together and review those underlined, circled, and bold-faced words. Which ones appear again and again? Which stimulate someone to have a good thought that clarifies things just that much more? Which most clearly embody what the business is, what it delivers, and why?

The goal here is to start drawing down to commonalities that inspire. Your purpose is to identify those words that can be strung together to make it clear to your staff and the world what it is that you do.

While there is no one “template” for a great vision statement, I look for two key things in a good vision statement to know the organization has their sights set high:

  1. A statement of what the organization is, put in terms of the value it provides.
    Don’t simply say you’re a software company, or a concrete contractor, or something else that I could easily find out from the phonebook with zero help from you. Tell me how you being a software company provides value.
  2. An indication of what the organization wants to achieve.
    Given the value you provide, what is your vision for what your organization will achieve?  Why does it matter?
  3. Bonus – tell me how.
    If you’ve got the inclination and the room to include it while still keeping the vision short, some people like to say a brief word about how they will achieve their vision. This may mean talking about your key values, or some key strategy you may take.

Perhaps the best way to get a feel for vision statements is to take a look at an excellent example, like this one from a group I’ve worked with:

The Greater Woodinville Chamber of Commerce
is an essential community asset
dedicated to a vibrant and growing
business environment
in partnership with the larger community.

Notice all the elements I talked about are there. They didn’t give a boring phone book definition of “we’re a chamber of commerce.” No! They said we’re “an essential community asset.” Now that’s vision and commands a level of action. The rest of the statement outlines what the goal to be achieved is: a vibrant and growing business environment. And the statement even includes mention of a key strategy through which the goals will be attained: through strategies.

Pattern your vision statement after this and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Living Your Vision Statement

Now that you’ve got it, how do you make the most of your vision statement? Here is what I have found to work best:

  1. Save your pre-work. Refer to it often.
    While the vision statement is catchy and inspirational, the pre-work you did when you were answering the questions is where a lot of gold is. For instance, you’re not going to put your profit goals in your vision statement, but staying firmly in touch with those long-term profit goals is absolutely critical. For this reason, I view this “vision story” to be every bit as important as the vision statement and keep the two constantly in the minds of the owners I work with. Do the same with yourself.
  2. Set goals based on your vision statement and vision story.
    Hopefully, revisiting your vision is happening as a part of a broader effort of strategic planning. If so, use both your vision statement and your vision story as a starting point for goal setting.
  3. Share your vision broadly
    Make certain to share your vision statement with your employees. Help them to understand how they fit in and what the benefits are to them of helping fulfill the vision. But don’t be bashful – share it also with your customers and even your suppliers. Your customers in particular, if they are the right customers for you, will get excited that they are doing business with the right company for them.
  4. Measure others by your vision
    Live and die by your vision statement; it won’t simply happen, you must make it happen. Ruthlessly measure others by your vision. If employees cannot ascribe to fulfilling the vision statement, they are working for the wrong company. If suppliers cannot meet the tolerances your vision statement demands, they must change or you must move on. You are either taking active steps to move toward your vision, or you are sliding away from it. Get moving.

When you establish a clear vision statement, communicate it broadly, and use it as a guide for your goals and actions, you’ll be amazed at the level of clarity you’re able to both attain and maintain.

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Business Values are the Secret to Meaning and Success

Business ValuesThe ultimate currency for value is our time. Whether personally, or for our business values, we know what we value by that to which we devote time.

When we are being true to ourselves, when we our in control of our own lives and destinies, and when we have the wealth and luxury to be working toward the things and goals we care about as opposed to the passions of another, then it is the case that our time is deeply invested in those endeavors. Often to the hilt. Often in such a fashion that we don’t notice time passing as we bathe in our passion.

It is pleasurable. It is fulfilling.

It is the sign that we are at one with ourselves and that we are deeply aligned with our core beliefs regarding what is important in business, and in life.

Those core beliefs comprise our values, the things that excite us emotionally, positively or negatively, and which motivate us to action.

Things we value positively we give time to, and things we value negatively we either avoid, or give time to fight against.

Value Conflicts

When we work for something or someone else whose values are not our own, the personal consequences can be devastating.

So often in business, business values are not the starting point.  When this happens, we unwittingly set up an unintended conflict:

  • The second generation business where junior inherits from the parents but does know that business values are the starting point to “making it my own.” Soon, the business becomes about “fulfilling mom/dad’s dream” instead of living to his or her own values in the here and now, and junior is inexplicably held hostage to a ghost.
  • The business that has lost vision and is no longer clear why it sets the goals it does.  While clear business values don’t guarantee clear vision, they’re the basis: I’ve never encountered an organization struggling with vision that already had its business values clear.
  • The “life is meaningless” exec.  It doesn’t matter how hard you work. It doesn’t matter how many goals you achieve. Nothing is truly satisfying.  This is a certain sign that either you and your personal values are out of sync, or your personal values and business values are.

Perhaps the ultimate value conflict is the minutia of daily life.  All the urgent-yet-insignificant things that distract us from the things that truly matter.  These shiny baubles and time suckers vacuum away our attention from the things we value. Who hasn’t had the experience of feeling all their energy drained by minutia that they not only ended up not having time for anything that matters, but they wondered if anything really even matters at all?

Business Values, Focus, and Vision

With each of the examples above, and perhaps most clearly with the overwhelm of daily minutia, it’s obvious what’s missing: Focus.

Regardless of whether we fail to consciously organize and work toward our values, or whether we allow ourselves to fall prey to the forces of daily chaos, both the goal and the antidote the intentional leader must apply are the same: Focus.

Focus in business begins with business values, and to your own values. A decision that being true to your values – being true to yourself – is more important and ultimately vastly more productive than firefighting minutia, living someone else’s dream, or existing in limbo.

My clients are amazed how much easier it is to craft a meaningful Vision for their businesses when they first take time to clarify their business values because in fact business values are the starting point.

It is critical that a Business Vision fulfill the desires and passions of the owners or it will not sustain the energy, passion, and life the business needs to truly live and thrive.  There is no better way to do this than to begin with business values.

Creating Business Values

Business Values start as nothing more than the Personal Values of the owners. If you think about that, that makes sense: Business is, in fact, never “Just business” – it’s always personal.  We bring to it our own personal rules, customs, moraes and perspectives.  In this section, I walk you through my four steps for developing business values.

1) Each Owner should first develop Personal Values

Because Business Values reflect personal values, the first step in developing business values is for each owner to identify their own values that they bring to the business.

It’s important to do this step independently, without influencing each other. If you need the assistance of someone to help you, it may be tempting to turn to your business partner who may also be your close friend, family member, or spouse and therefore know you well.  Resist the urge. Find a neutral third-party who can help you objectively clarify your values – a business coach, trusted friend, or pastor.

2) Work from a Values Framework

With just a little Googling, it’s quite easy to come up with lists purporting to be business values that you can simply choose from.

Most of these lists aren’t well organized and aren’t based on any known framework of human values. It’s much better to work from an established set of researched business values and identify what resonates with you and what you react against.

I want to review one such framework based on the work by TTI Performance Systems, Ltd. with you here for you to use in establishing your own personal values and ultimately your business values.  I’ll review each and give examples of how it might apply through typical words or areas of focus.  There are six we’ll refer to as Reward, Power, Experience, Service, Order, and Knowledge.


Perhaps one of the more popular personal and business values, Reward is all about making big gains on all efforts. Money is probably what you think of first and you’d be right, but only partly. Reward-oriented folks want everything to pay off – their time investments, use of their resources, etc. You can recognize this business value in people who use words like: practicality, return on investment, payoff, etc.


The most stereotypical of personal and business values has to be Power – the big man, the head honcho, the big cheese. Power people naturally rise to the top of the heap and the front of the line. They lead. They push. They’re focused on things like: advancement, achievement, winning, leading, recognition.


Your might not think of Experience when thinking of personal and business values, but stay with me. Experience people value the overall experience of a given situation. At a party, these are the people that naturally circulate around the room and make sure everyone is having a good time… even though it’s not their party. In business it may be the person who always thinks, “How would the customer respond?” They tend to be focused on things like: feelings, enjoyment, harmony, balance.


Personal and business values are not all self-focused. Service-oriented people are other-oriented people who genuinely care about the conditions and outcomes of other people. They will donate their time, talents, energies, and resources to help them succeed. For them, it’s a natural high to help someone else be better or do better. They tend to resonate with things like: selflessness, generosity, potential or others. investing in others.


One of the less common personal and business values is Order. The quest for a better way of living is what drives people who subscribe to Order. These people tend to focus on: system for living, fighting for a cause, converting others.


Of the business values identified here, knowledge may be the least obvious. People who ascribe to Knowledge may come off like the propeller-heads of an organization. They pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake and are supremely objective. Their focus areas are: problem solving, systems, objectivity, pure knowledge.

Let yourself have an emotional, gut reaction to each of the personal and business values above.  Fall in love with some.  Absolutely hate others. Get very clear on where you resonate and where you don’t.

To help that effort, take out a piece of paper and write them down in rank order, beginning with your very favorite and ending with the one you dislike the most.

Now beside each value, write down a number from 1 to 10.  The number 1 means you can’t stand it, you oppose it, you might even be willing to fight against it.  The number 10 means you are devoted to it, it’s what drives you, it is the reason you get up in the morning.

Finally, for those that you respond to, write down the value words that come to mind.  Those words may be some of my examples above or they may be others.  (I also find it helpful to put the master value from the list of personal and business values above that inspired me in parentheses.)  Beside each word, write a definition. We’re not looking for a dictionary definition; we’re looking for what the value means to you and why you chose it.

The net result of this exercise should be 1) your prioritized and rated list of master values, 2) your list of values complete with definition, and 3) a clearer sense of self.

You are now more in touch with your values. And that wasn’t so hard.

3) Combine your efforts

After completing the above individually, it’s time for the owners to get together and compare notes.

Your values don’t have to be in 100% agreement, but it’s clearly advantageous if they’re compatible with one another.  Most conflicts in business, especially family business, come from conflicting values that we don’t even see.

So examine for over-lapping, common values, and discuss how those overlaps can be leveraged for strength.

Similarly identify potential conflicts and determine how they will be resolved. For example, if one owner prizes Reward and despises Service while the other owner is the opposite, conflict over how time is spent, profit margin, and quality are bound to occur. What business value can you adopt that can serve as a compromise while still maintaining your individual high standards.

Come away from this step with one combined set of business values that reflect your combined efforts.

4) Adjust to reflect the Organization

Blending. The example above and the entire process of creating business values from separate personal values is the process of blending.  Business is personal so it makes perfect sense that business values are personal, too.

After blending your individual efforts, take a moment to reflect on whether the full business values of the organization you intend are represented. Is the sum greater than the parts of the owners, and is that sum represented in the business.

A common example is a corporate focus on Service when it comes to employees. In particular, even the most Power- or Reward-oriented individuals can feel themselves strangely motivated to provide for the well-being and potential of their employees. Not only is that okay, it’s encouraged! What’s important to note is that this Service-oriented motivation might not show up in any owners profile even though it’s part of the corporate DNA and business values.

The outcome at this point should be one combined list of business values that guide the organization and that can be used, along with the Vision and Mission, as “truth-o-meters” for everything the organization does. Shorter is better: a list of 5 memorable business values is definitely better than an unwieldy list of 15 business values.

Living Your Business Values

Identifying your business values is a useful step and a critical one, but it’s only a first step.

Business values must be given life and direction, and that is the role of the Vision Statement. Business values don’t actually do anything on their own, but ignore them and watch the misery rush in.

Armed with business values that are meaningful and personal to you, you are now equipped to envision a business that is fulfilling, enriching, and that truly captivates your passion.

Free e-Book: Five Keys for Strategic Planning Success
The Five Keys for Strategic Planning Success
Discover the Five Keys to creating rapid progress through Strategic Planning using our step-by-step guide.

How to Do Marketing

BullhornIn a post started here, I asked you to respond to my reader’s comments on their biggest challenge in growing their business.

What I’d like from you:
1. Read through the responses.
2. Find one that you know how to solve, or for which you have a helpful suggestion.
3. Leave a comment with your answer. (Remember, you can post under an anonymous “name.”)
4. If your response is on this list, check back here for what people suggested.

Nobody Understands What We Do
We’ve created innovations in eCommerce and Fair Trade that are so revolutionary that they’re hard to put into words.  We’ve put a great deal of effort into trying to communicate clearly about our capabilities, innovations, and what our platform can do. But it seems that we still struggle to explain them simply in a way that people understand and care about.  As a result, it remains tough to find start-up funding.  How do we crack this nut?
 – eCommerce Start-up

I’m trying to reinvent our message to get back in front of clients that think they already know us.  There’s more that we can do for them.  I’m trying to create campaigns complete with calls, emails, postcards, webinars – you name it – not only to capture new customers but to wake up established ones, too.  How can I get going in a unified way?
– Non-Profit Advocacy Group

Internet Marketing
I have inspirational art targeted at coaches, consultants, speakers, and bloggers.  Whatever emotion you’re trying to elicit, I’ve got the perfect piece of art, paired with the perfect quote.  Now what I’m trying to do is figure out the easiest and best way to run an eCommerce Marketing test to market my work.  How do I get started?
– Artist

Leave your responses below.


How to Do Leadership

LeadershipIn a post started here, I asked you to respond to my reader’s comments on their biggest challenge in growing their business.

What I’d like from you:
1. Read through the responses.
2. Find one that you know how to solve, or for which you have a helpful suggestion.
3. Leave a comment with your answer. (Remember, you can post under an anonymous “name.”)
4. If your response is on this list, check back here for what people suggested.

Getting Unstuck
Knowing where and how to grow, and how to start.  Knowing that I can do it.  Just simply getting unstuck.
– Professional Services Firm

Finding Time to Delegate
The manager knows he’s spread too thin and needs to delegate more and “do” less, but he doesn’t seem to find the time.  As a result, we two senior leaders aren’t taking an active role.  This is all made worse by the addition of two new hires that just slow things down, and a remodeling project that slow it down more.  How can we get things moving again?
– Security Contractor

Leave your responses below.

Eat Your Own Dog Food!

Dog in JailThe challenge with working in performance improvement is you see room for improvement everywhere…

My wife and I just got back from a pretty good dinner at a Zagat-rated restaurant in Woodinville, WA. “Pretty good” might seem good, but at $83 it should have been “great.”

Frankly, I’m not concerned about the money. I’m concerned that I happen to know that the owners of this particular restaurant are dismayed about the current downturn and are seeking a way to turn things around. If only they had a way to experience their service as if for the first time and see it with fresh eyes. If they did, they might be as startled as were my wife and I:

    • How many people does it take to seat a restaurant guest?
      It sounds like a joke, but there’s no punchline. Here’s it’s three. If you’re going for a particular service level and if that service is impeccable, that may be acceptable. However, when greetings are slow, multiple parties are seated in a cloud of confusion, and only one of the three is doing the seating, there is wasted pay ready to be saved.


    • How many people does it take to wait a section?
      Again, I fully appreciate attention to service level. But enough support staff flitting about filling water glasses and busing tables only goes so far.


  • What about the food?
    All that overhead of those excess people for the sake of appearances costs money. So the food needs to be a bit pricier than a chain. It also needs to be better. But it’s not. How, with so much staff to keep an eye out, do you burn veal and over cook spaghetti?

Take a moment out to ask yourself what your real value is. If you’re a restaurant, you’re not serving up countless wait staff, full water glasses, and instantly refreshed tables. I’d even argue – against reason and logic – your primary value isn’t even your food.

Your value is the memories you help create by bringing what someone else considers to be the perfect food, place, and moment together in a singularity. That’s when proposals happen… birthday parties… break-ups… life. Your place and your food needs to be perfect enough to help those moments happen, and not stand in the way. Anything less is shooting yourself in the head. Anything more is just your own ego and pride.