Writing a Vision Statement
Before writing a vision statement, it is important to clearly understand three fundamental facts:Your vision’s nature – what the vision is and what it is not (common misconceptions).Your vision’s function – what the vision does for your organization as a leadership tool.Your vision’s fuel – what you need to do in order to ignite its full potential.
Once you understand these three basic facts, it will be easier to start writing a vision statement for your organization (see below) ...
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YOUR VISION’S NATURE
The vision is an appealing mental picture of the ideal future.Your vision is what your aspire to achieve, to become, to create. Your vision does not predict the future – it is a tool to help you create the future.
The vision is not:A planThe mission of your organizationA magic cure for your organization’s illnesses
YOUR VISION’S FUNCTION
Your vision – in order to be an effective leadership tool – must accomplish two things simultaneously:It must align your organizationIt must promote change
Your vision works like a compass to help your entire workforce navigate through the waters of change and move in the desired direction – it helps your whole organization focus its attention on what is most important.
Your vision helps you create a common context for efficient activity coordination, for elimination of unproductive activities, and for effective decision making throughout your organization at all levels.
A shared vision provides an organizational framework for guiding actions without having to have direct supervision and unobtrusive control.
The process of writing a vision statement is the first part, the second part is making sure everybody clearly understands it and buys into it so that everyone can row in the same direction.
The vision of your organization helps your employees see how their efforts contribute to the larger picture and it helps them become aware of how their involvement matters to a common cause. When people feel connected to the vision of the organization, they feel more motivated to think in new ways, to innovate, and to pull against the status quo.
A shared vision has the possibility to change the existing state of affairs for a better future.
A successful vision has the potential to enhance a wide range of performance measures: Organizations with a vision have historically outperformed companies without a vision.
Writing a vision statement is useless if your vision does not promote change.
YOUR VISION’S FUEL
You can have the best vision in the world, but if most of your employees don’t know about it, your impressive vision is useless.
Your vision realizes its full potential when it produces change, and to do so, it must be broadly shared, understood, and approved.
On one hand, when a vision is not shared, it lacks the collective commitment for bringing it to life – the most influential visions are developed upon the shared desires of your organization’s stakeholders: your employees, clients, suppliers, stockholders, etc.
On the other hand, if senior management’s behavior is not consistent with the vision, writing a vision statement is a waste of time – a vision statement must be embodied in the senior leader’s behavior. The behavior of senior leaders is one of the most influential ingredients in the creation of culture – the culture of your organization.
WRITING A VISION STATEMENT
There are many methods for writing a vision statement – what works in one organization might not work in another. Nonetheless, these are some guidelines that will help you when writing a vision statement:
Writing a vision statement is a process – sometimes a long process that is not easy. It is definitely not a one-time clear-cut event.
This process requires commitment from top management. Sometimes writing a vision statement might seem like a waste of time because of the amount of work it requires.
Assign a single person who will be responsible for writing a vision statement; also, assign a team to this person who will support her in bringing this task to fruition. If the top person of the organization (e.g., the CEO) is not included in this team, she should supervise closely the development of this process.
John Kotter in “Leading Change” (HBSP, Boston, MA: 1996) suggests including in this team, people from throughout your organization with the following characteristics:People with enough position power – you want key players on board.People with different expertise in terms of discipline, work experience, ethnic backgrounds, etc. – you want to bring to the table different perspectives.People with credibility – you want these people to be taken seriously by the rest of your organization.People with proven leadership ability – you want your change to move forward once your vision is finally shaped.
Make sure your team is able to work together effectively; otherwise, your team will spend endless hours debating and debating without being able to move forward.
Managers & Leaders:
Writing a vision statement is a process that requires both:Number crunching and analytical thinking (work for the left-brain hemisphere)Dreaming and intuition (work for the right-brain hemisphere)
Figuratively speaking, writing a vision statement is an assignment for the head (managerial work) and for the heart (leadership work).
This process must analyze tons of data and synthesize it down to an elegant simplicity.
In other words, your team responsible for writing a vision statement must have a balanced inclusion of both: managers and leaders.
Your vision must be anchored in reality taking into account your organization’s problems and capabilities, and the environment – managers are good at this; but managers don’t create visions, they typically create plans which extend the past rather than creating the future. Leaders create visions.
For a broader discussion about the difference between managers and leaders
Top-down and bottom-up cycle:
You don’t want your workforce to find the vision too lofty, abstract, irrelevant, etc., you want your vision to be strategic and aligned with the aspirations of your people. Hence, writing a vision statement typically requires a process that starts at the top of your organization working its way down collecting data; then the process continues back to the top searching for common ground, to shape this input into a first draft. This cycle might take place just once, or perhaps more times as required by the needs of your organization.
The type of questions you will want to ask when writing a vision statement will depend on your organization’s specific needs and circumstances.
James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras in “Building Your Company’s Vision” (Harvard Business Review, Boston, MA: 1996) suggest the following questions:We are sitting here in 20 years: what would you love to see?What should this company look like?What should it have achieved?What should it feel like to employees?If a business journalist wrote an article for a major business magazine about this company in 20 year, what would the article say?
When you finish writing a vision statement, the end product – your vision – must be an elegant and easy to convey image of an ideal future.
John Kotter in “Leading Change” (HBSP, Boston, MA: 1996) suggests the following characteristics:
Your vision must be:Imaginable: It conveys a picture of what the future will look like. It is like painting a picture with your words. It is an image that people can carry around in their heads.Desirable: It appeals to the long-term interests of employees, customers, stockholders, and others who have a stake in the enterprise. It is a vibrant, engaging, and specific description of what will be like to achieve the vision. Passion, emotion and conviction are essential parts of the vivid description.Feasible: It comprises realistic, attainable goals. It has a clear finish line.Focused: It is clear enough to provide guidance in decision making.Flexible: It is general enough to allow individual initiative and alternative responses in light of changing conditions.Communicable: People get it right away; it takes little or no explanation.Visionary: Inventing such a vision forces executives to be visionary rather than just strategic or tactical. It should not be a sure bet – it will have only a 50% to 70% probability of success – but the organization must believe that it can reach the goal anyway.
An effective envisioned future requires (according to James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras) a certain level of unreasonable confidence and commitment – the envisioned future should produce a bit of the gulp factor: When it dawns on people what it will take to achieve the vision, there should be an almost audible gulp.
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