Whether 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.
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.
- What business is the business in?
- You will have annual revenues of: ?
Through what product lines? Distributed according to what %?
- You will have annual profits of: ?
Through what product lines? Distributed according to what %?
- Do you get paid for providing a commodity, providing solutions and consultation, or both?
- Is your business based on one-time, recurring, or continuity (fully-automatic recurring) transactions?
- Whom do you serve? Consumers? Businesses? Government? Which is best, and why?
- Where will the business be located? Headquarters? Other locations? Regional? National? International?
- How many FTE employees will the company have?
- 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.
- What will your personal gain be?
- What will your organization be known for?
- What is the over-arching purpose of the organization?
- What accomplishments, achievements, or awards will you have attained?
- How will your customers regard you, think about you, or speak of you to others?
- 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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.