‘A vision helps to inspire and capture aspiration and assist people in overcoming the inherent incohesion associated in moving away from the familiar.’ So wrote Benjamin and Rosamund Stone Zander in their excellent book The Art of Possibility. Yet, most organisations vision statements do the exact opposite, leaving staff bereft of any kind of -ation that could produce positive results.
To be clear – because it’s often hard to keep up with all this vision, values, mission, purpose stuff – a vision should be a short but clear statement of where an organisation or team wants to be in the future.
It’s not a statement of your beliefs, what you exist to do or the role that the organisation or department exists to fill. It’s a picture of the future that people find exciting (yes, exciting!) and that becomes a key motivator for hiring, prioritisation of work and target achievement.
The attributes of a great vision statement
For starters the vision should be achievable…but only just.
Saying that you want to be the ‘World’s best HR team’ is nice, but completely unachievable, because how will you ever know if you get there? Unless every HR team is using the same criteria to measure its performance and then making it public to the same organisation who share the scores around the world, you’ll never know and it’ll become an unrealised dream for everyone involved.
It should be just out of immediate reach. It will require that everyone must bring their best selves to work every day, continually challenge the status quo and provide a great employee and customer experience in order to achieve it, such that it can be reset the following year.
Achievability is just one attribute of a great vision statement, but what are some others?
Visions are owned by the culture, not the executive team
The vision, and this is absolutely crucial, should be created by the people that ‘own’ the culture i.e. the staff. Not the executive team, not consultants, not branding experts, but the very people who you are expecting to live it on a day-to-day basis. Many organisations will put this in the too hard basket, when (and speaking as someone who runs this exercise with teams all the time) it takes 45-60 minutes. Single aspirational words on post-it notes that are then pieced together to form a short motivational sentence.
A vision is much easier to practice on a daily basis if it’s created by the people that have to live it in the first place.
The shorter the better
And living it daily requires it to be memorable. Which means a vision must be short in length and free of the business buzzwords the many organisations seem to enjoy regurgitating.
‘To be the most efficient and effective engineering organisation delivering agility and value through collaboration and innovation to customers around the world.’
Ugh. It’s not visionary in the slightest, yet this is the reality for most as crafting a vision statement is seen as something to be ticked off, culturally, rather than a mechanism for inspiration.
You should be aiming for four to six words, recognising that less is more. Three words? Great! Two? Even better. One of my all-time favourite vision statements was that of the Walt Disney Company who used to have this absolute cracker, ‘Make People Happy’.
Is it just a little bit out of reach? (Tick) Is it aspirational? (Tick) Is it memorable? (Tick) Can any member of staff draw a straight line from the vision to the job that they do? (Err, yes, Tick)
I say used to be because they went and changed it to this, ‘To be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information.’ I mean, it’s not wrong, it’s just a bit, well, un-Disney.
The ability for staff to be able to draw a straight line to the vision from the work that they do is important as this is the bit that instils pride and aids with decision-making. Will this initiative make people happy? Then it’s a low priority.
All too often the vision statement is so out of reach for staff that they can’t see their contribution to it and consequently don’t feel the all-important cultural connection that will help them with the change required to achieve the goals set for that year.
Visions exist everywhere
One way to help with this is to ensure that every subculture within the organisation has its own vision statement that lines up with that of the organisation. HR, IT, Engineering, Retail, whatever, they should all have their own cultural definition so that they can contribute to the overall vibrancy of the organisation culture. A key component of which is the vision statement.
Creating a short, memorable and achievable vision statement is not a senior-management-only exercise required for the annual report. It’s a critical task that all members of any culture should be involved in to ensure aspiration is clear to help individuals see the way to future success.
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