Most companies' vision and mission statements are useless. Where as a good vision statement can inspire loyalty, hard work and innovation, most of the framed statements hanging on the walls of businesses are nothing more than a description of what the company does.
The kind of "vision" statement to which I am referring usually look something like this:
...to be the leading supplier of [insert product or service] at the best possible price with the best possible service...blah blah blah value...blah blah blah customer satisfaction & innovation....blah blah blah leader in our industry.
I always ask companies with statements like the above what they think the vision statements on their competitors' walls say. Eerily similar I imagine.
A good mission or vision statement is just that, a statement of a vision - a look ahead into the future. A vision statement is an articulation of a view of the world that your company and your people are working towards, not what they are expected to do now.
But the vision alone is not enough. Given your vision of the future, how, specifically, will your company work to achieve it? These guidelines or values should be written in a manner by which people, at all levels, can be held accountable. "Innovation," "authenticity" and "integrity" are not measurable (and frankly things like integrity should be a given...anyone in your company lacking this quality shouldn't be given a mission statement, they should be given a pink slip).
Here are some guidelines to writing a vision or mission statement that works.
Why do you do what you do?
- Begin your statement with "I believe..."
- Your Vision Statement should start with what you believe, why you do what you do -- your purpose or cause on a level higher than what your company does or makes. Try starting your statement with the words "I believe..." or "I envision a world..." You'll find what follows will be quite different than what you expect. You can always take out those opening words later, if you want.
- Don't write more than two lines for what you believe.
- This is not the place for long-winded descriptions about what your company does or its value to the world. The opening of your statement shouldn't require more than a line or two to capture the world you imagine.
- Leave what you sell out of it.
- This is a statement of your vision, not what you do. Nowhere in Southwest Airlines' mission does it say anything about being an airline. What you do is important, but not at this level.
How do you do it?
- Explain How you think and act.
- Now that you've articulated Why you you do what you do, it's time to explain how you do it. There are probably two to five distinct characteristics or values about How your company operates that makes you unique in the way you are going about realizing your vision.
- These ideas should not be amorphous. They should be specific and actionable. They should be written in a way that people can be held accountable. "Innovative," for example, is hard to hold people accountable to. You can't say to someone, "be innovative." How do you know when they are? But you can say, "always have options to any solution you offer," for example.
What do you do?
- What are you doing to bring your vision to life?
- You've articulated your belief and how you go about doing what you do, now explain what you do - the things you sell that will serve as proof to the world of Why and How you do things.
Put your business goals on another piece if paper.
- No matter how robust, your business goals belong somewhere else. They are the result of pursuing your vision and holding yourself accountable to your guiding principles or values. Your goals may serve to motivate a few people in management, but most people are not inspired by financial objectives. They are, however, inspired by a pursuit greater than any one person or product.
Only if you're interested, here's my vision statement:
I work to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.
And no matter what I do in order to realize my vision, I hold myself accountable to five guiding principles:
- Be unconventional: Shake things up. Offer new perspectives. Only when you see or hear things in a different way can you see greater opportunities.
- Keep it simple: If people can more easily understand something, then it's more likely to get done.
- Collaborate: Work with others, because they know more and have already made all the mistakes.
- Silver-line it: Look for the silver lining in every cloud. It's better to amplify what works than obsess with fixing what doesn't work.
- Act!: Action is always better than inaction.
To realize my vision: I write about how to inspire action. I consult companies how build corporate cultures that inspire their employees. I guide companies how to create marketing and communications that inspire customers to buy from them over and over and over. I speak to anyone who will listen. I work to be my own best case study, practicing everything I preach.