In our recent blog article on vision and mission statements, we gave a few examples of the excellent ones from well-known brands. We talked about the way in which they live that vision and mission in their brand. We looked at how that has a positive effect on their reputation and their financial success.

But there was a caveat. If a company has a vision and a stated mission it must act within the spirit and truth of those statements and the principles that derive from them, whatever the situation. This is so that the vision and mission aren’t the first things thrown out of the basket when the balloon starts to sink a little.

But how to do it? How to encompass a statement that encapsulates the original ideals for the starting up of the organisation? And, how to do this in a way that inspires, with a mission to reach that visionary state?

Before Starting

To create a meaningful vision statement, there’s likely to be a plethora of views on what should go into it.  The first step is to set some ground rules.  For example:

  • The vision will encompass the views of all.  No one view will supersede any other.
  • The statement should be no longer than one sentence/X words so that it can be instantly memorable and easily recitable.
  • Nothing is set in stone. The company will review its statements annually/every X years to ensure that it is still the right vision as the company grows.

Who are the Stakeholders? How can they contribute?

Stakeholders are past, present and future.  Past could be the view of the founder who had the original vision. Then there are the current staff, attracted to join the company by its advertising and its projection of itself as the kind of place they would like to work, among other things. And the future staff who will want to come to work for the company as they are attracted by, and believe in, its vision.

To gather ideas for what the company means to them, it may be possible to get input from the whole staff.  This could be done by a questionnaire to the whole staff, or by gathering them together for a discussion/focus group/workshop. Or all three. But if this is not a practical option, electing representatives is another option. Just make sure that they cover the full range of staff so that all opinions can be gathered.  In a Business News Daily[1] article, Jamie Falcowski of marketing and communications company One Day Agency also suggests:

“Using individual stakeholder interviews as an effective way to encourage candor amongst all invested parties and to gather real, honest feedback.  Employees can identify and highlight common themes, as well as describe an organisation’s future in words and pictures.”

Stakeholder image of 5 characters

The company may end up with a couple of different versions of the vision statement from which the staff can choose the one they believe is the most representative.

Whatever the outcome and the final vision statement, the crucial issue is to ensure it creates a vision that every invested person can relate to.

Ultimately, the vision statement is not about selling the product or service. Its purpose is to ensure that it provides the inspiration to stick with the organisation in good, and less good, times. This means that difficult decisions, as well as the easy ones, will automatically incorporate a reference to the organisation’s vision.

In setting the ground rules, we suggested that the vision statement be short and concise.  This is the ideal version, but if this proves difficult, then there is no rule that says that you can’t have a longer version.  A suggestion by Shannon DeJong[2] is to “have a full-length version of your vision for the leadership’s eyes only.  Think of the longer version as your reference guide to why you’re in business in the first place.”

Tame or Tempestuous?

One of the biggest criticisms of vision statements is that they are a meaningless piece of advertising. And if this is true, what exactly is the problem? It’s usually that the statement is bland, it’s generic, it could apply to any company, anywhere. And why would that inspire anyone?

If the purpose of having a vision statement is to inspire staff, then it’s quite acceptable to step outside of the everyday, acceptable box and go for something daring and even outrageous.

Nevertheless, it might still be tempting to write something that doesn’t offend or upset anyone, that provokes no particular opinion. It’s an easy solution. But let’s go back to the solid numbers, as we quoted in our recent article: “employees who find their company’s vision meaningful have engagement levels of 68%, which is 18 points above average.”[3]

This says that mediocrity and vagueness are not going to inspire anyone and are not going to distinguish any organisation from the crowd.

businessman tearing up vision statement

A Vision in a Changing World of Moving Goalposts

Trying to define morality and ethics of our society, and how it relates to business in these turbulent times, is a challenge. 

For example, a couple of years ago who would have believed that a 16-year old girl could have a global impact on how the world views climate change?  And that businesses now have to take more responsibility because pf ever increasing scrutiny as people see more, hear more and understand more about the impact on themselves.

One of the most exciting things about starting a new company is that, although you have a personal vision of what you want to achieve, as the business succeeds and grows, this can change.  New technologies, scientific developments and public opinions can change, and this can affect the direction in which the business moves in response. Or perhaps, established business may find that an area of specialisation may become important, either from the preference of the business owners, or from direction of consumers.

People in an office changing the vision statement

There is nothing wrong with re-examining a vision to ensure that it is still fit for purpose. It’s beneficial to check that it is still relevant to the opportunities that have been created through growth and that it is still meaningful to the people who work under it.

Don’t be afraid to change the vision statement if it no longer feels right. Staff will appreciate the honesty and boldness behind such a move, rather than doggedly sticking with something that is outdated and no longer applicable.  The purpose of writing the statement in the first place was to clarify what the organisation is doing.  If that has changed, then the statement has to change.  Common sense, really.

If you don’t already have one, and the prospect of creating such a statement seems too much to take on, there’s plenty of help out there.  There are companies and online support that can give advice, templates and frameworks.  

Be bold. Give it a go.

[1] 2019

[2] House of Who brand Agency. 2019

[3] Businessnews 2019