Company vision statements can be a horror show, can’t they? From the mind-numbingly generic to the ludicrously unrealistic, vision statements are more often cringe-worthy than inspiring.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up on vision statements. Far from it. Done well, the vision statement sets an important tone for the business, and acts as a signpost for where the company wants to go. And when you strip away the corporate lingo and wordsmithing, company visions can be surprisingly simple. Unconvinced? Read on to find out how you can prepare a meaningful and inspiring vision statement for your company.
What does a vision statement do?
I’ve written elsewhere about the difference between vision and mission statements, so I won’t go into great detail defining the two. But, in a nutshell, your vision statement should set out the company’s goals and aspirations for the future. It should clearly describe where the business is heading and what it wants to achieve. In fact, I’ve always thought “aspiration statement” would be a much better description.
It’s important to note that the vision statement should not set out the company’s purpose or what it does – that’s what the mission statement is for.
Vision statements at their worst
Some of the worst vision statements I’ve seen veer towards the laughably grandiose and self-congratulatory. Take Hilton for example. As someone who has stayed in many a Hilton hotel over the years, I can honestly say they do corporate hospitality perfectly well. But their vision to “fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality” is definitely over-egging the pudding.
Another common mistake is to pack the vision statement with meaningless corporate jargon that fails to inspire or motivate. Like Nestle, whose vision is “to be a leading, competitive, Nutrition, Health and Wellness Company delivering improved shareholder value by being a preferred corporate citizen, preferred employer, preferred supplier selling preferred products.” Hardly inspiring, is it? Nestle actually have a really strong mission statement, so this flat-as-a-pancake vision of the future is a definite disappointment.
Other vision statements are just far too generic and bland. Coca Cola’s vision begins, “Our vision serves as the framework for our Roadmap and guides every aspect of our business by describing what we need to accomplish in order to continue achieving sustainable, quality growth.” For those who haven’t fallen asleep already, the vision statement then goes on to describe a series of ambitions that are so generic they could serve for almost any company.
And finally, too many vision statements use clichéd superlatives like “be the most successful” “best” “market-leading” and “superior”. But when every company is proclaiming they want to be “the best in the world” people just stop paying attention, rendering vision statements utterly useless.
Getting it right
A good way to begin writing your vision statement is to ask yourself these key questions:
- What is our most important medium-term goal?
- What are we working towards?
- What kind of company do we want to be?
- How can we make people’s lives better?
Based on the answers to these questions, you can then begin to draft your vision statement. My top tips for writing an amazing vision statement are:
- Be specific. Create a mental picture of a concrete medium-term target that is specifically tied to your business and industry.
- Inspire and motivate. Your vision should feel like a guiding star, or a call to arms, for people inside and outside the organisation.
- But remain tethered to reality. You want to create a picture that is inspiring yet completely realistic and achievable. Don’t get carried away like Hilton!
- Keep it short and snappy. Ideally one sentence, two at most.
- Show (don’t tell) how you’ll make the world a better place. Too many companies simply tell us they want to make the world a better place, without demonstrating how.
- Strip out the superlatives. Don’t use clichés like “be the best” or “excellence”. Be unique.
Brilliant examples to follow
Here are some fantastic vision statements that really inspire and motivate, while staying rooted in real life:
- Beginning with one of my clients, the Motor Neurone Disease Foundation’s vision of “a world free of MND” is beautifully and succinctly put.
- US airline Southwest simply wants to “become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline”.
- Amazon’s vision is inspiring yet realistic: “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”.
- And Save the Children’s powerful vision is “a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation”.
Where to go from here
I hope this article has prompted you to rethink your company vision statement and create something that’s meaningful and unique. If you would like to know more about vision statements, mission statements and strategy, check out my articles on: