Just recently, I was out to lunch with the founders and owners of a business. We were happily chatting about all things business until they produced their glossy, corporate brochure with a flourish; their vision statement read: "connecting people... to solutions".
There were two major issues.
First, the vision statement really just described the technical purpose and prowess of product and service. Accordingly, at best, it may have been a purpose statement.
Secondly, a corporate brochure was no place for a vision statement (and nor is a website). Customers are much more interested in their own needs and interests.
Any vision statement paints a picture of the preferred future of a business, focusing on what the business might become. It describes what it will take for those working within a business to create something different and better. A vision statement will have colour, light, life, movement, shape and substance to fill the canvas so that a true masterpiece emerges. It will be bold, challenging, exciting and inspiring. It might almost seem impossible, given where the business is at today, and yet it will be realistic and quite possibly achievable.
Like a master artist, vision will first spring from the heart and soul of the business leader. It will be borne of the leader's passion, enthusiasm and commitment, and come from the leader dreaming a dream of what might be. It will rage, almost like a fire in the belly of the business leader. It will not spring from the leader's ego and ambition. Essentially, it will be customer-centric and outward-focused, outlining how the business will meet customer needs and interests, exceeding customer expectations with service and product second to none. True vision will highlight high performance and target business excellence.
Characteristics of vision
The following is not intended to be prescriptive, as each and every vision statement will be different as to content and substance. By way of example only, to inspire your own ideas in dreaming a dream as to what your business might become, an inspiring vision statement could include:
- How the business will really stand out from competitors
- Customer experience
- Quality of service and product
- Attributes of leaders and team members as high performers
- Number, qualification and experience of leaders and team members, with their various roles
- Location, size and design of business premises
- Number and type of preferred customers
- Any ancillary services
- Revenue and profit targets (possibly though not necessarily so)
This gives a fulsome picture of what the business might look like in, say, five years. Qualitative descriptors are important, as are numbers, percentages and dollars for quantitative targets. This vision outline might fill one A4 sheet in words and/or with bullet points and/or be illustrated visually with a well-designed picture or diagram.
A vision statement is intended to inspire leaders and team alike. The vision must unite them in a journey together, working toward the preferred future of their business. To do so, the following tips might be helpful:
- Any vision is not an end in and of itself: it must find context alongside other key business fundamentals, such a values, purpose, principles, leadership, entrepreneurship, team building, workplace culture, new business development, strategy, planning and the like
- The team must own and accept the vision through discussion, negotiation, and agreement; it cannot be imposed by a leader from up high
- Vision must be experienced as inspirational in its practical outworking: watch and test for full engagement and high performance
- As a leader, be passionate and enthusiastic about the vision, setting a good example with your own concerted efforts toward accomplishing the vision
- As the leader, do not "bang on" about the vision at every opportunity, obsessively and repeatedly; an occasional reminder at team meetings is fine, supplemented by an annual team workshop to revisit the vision, review progress, fine-tune as needed, and agree upon any substantive changes
- Include the vision statement prominently on the workplace intranet and plaster copies and extracts on the internal, workplace walls
- Each team member contributes to the vision by setting their own plans and personal goals, with performance reviewed by regular feedback and bi-annual formal reviews: best endeavours only are sought
- Do the same with group or team plans and goals: ditto best endeavours
- Hold occasional brainstorming sessions for new ideas based on the vision statement
- Celebrate milestones together and have fun
- Express genuine gratitude and award prizes for individual or team achievements
- Remember: vision involves a journey to be enjoyed, with the journey being even more important than the final destination itself
Starting with a leader's fire in the belly, just wait and see how a dynamic, inspiring, well-framed vision can really fire up your business!
This article was originally published by the International Institute of Directors and Managers.