The only things more painful to read than most corporate mission statements are corporate vision statements. Many vision statements are written by committee. They start out direct, clear and compelling but as everyone involved has their turn at contributing their input those visions lose their luster. The direct parts of the vision get watered down as not to offend, exclude or intimidate people. Also, things are added to the vision because people want to ensure that their pet function or goal is included in the vision statement and this lengthens the document and makes it more confusing.
Eventually some vision statements come to look more like a bill that has moved through Congress, where everyone involved has tacked on their personal amendment, than they do a compelling articulation of what the organization will be in the future.
Before you go skipping forward with the defense that you do not write vision statements at the corporate level, you must realize you are responsible for setting direction for your team. You as a leader must create a vision statement for your team when your team is large enough to warrant having one. Any team that is responsible for a discrete organizational function should have a vision. It doesn’t matter if that team is as small as five people or as large as five thousand. You can write a powerful vision statement as long as all members of that team are focused on delivering the same goals in the same functional area.
Whatever your situation or your title happens to be, the simple fact remains – you need to articulate a vision for the future state of your organization or team. We usually leave this up to the C-suite but writing a vision statement at any level is a powerful exercise. Your people want to be excited to come to work. They want to be part of something bigger than they are. If you can paint a compelling future picture for them, they will be more excited to follow you to that destination. If you do not paint that picture, they are likely following you out of laziness or just morbid curiosity to see what is going to happen. The earlier in your career you learn how to create vision statements the more successful you will be at writing them as your responsibilities expand.
Writing a vision statement requires a great deal of thought and an ability to step outside of your daily grind and into a time beyond the foreseeable future. When you write it you need to make it concise and it must clearly explain how your organization creates value. This value creation component is easier to articulate than you might think. Ask yourself “what will the business outcomes and results be if I achieve this component of my vision?” Your vision should include several key phrases and you should be able to link each phrase to a desired business outcome.
To create your vision, look five years into the future and ask yourself what your organization should look like. Using a five-year planning window will generally help you balance between being achievable but not too ambiguous. This is because it is a short enough time frame for you and your team to have a measurable impact and feel like you have made progress, but it is far enough in the future that you can be aspirational in how you describe that vision without protests of “we’ll never achieve that goal in that short an amount of time!” Conversely, visions set beyond five years into the future can lead your team to feel like the world will change so much over that period that the vision will be neither achievable nor relevant.
Below are some thought starters to assist you with tackling this big question. Do your best to answer as many of them as you can even if at first glance the question does not apply.
– How big will your organization be? How will you define its scope?
– What new skills will your team members have?
– What new capabilities will you build over this time period?
– How will the way you work with other groups change?
– What should your customers, both internal and external, expect from you?
– What will set your team apart and distinguish it when it is compared to other teams?
– What is your future vision for your team?
– Will they be excited by it?
– What aspects of it will they find inspiring?
Once you have drafted a preliminary set of answers to these questions look at all the answers as pieces of a bigger puzzle. Create the most powerful elements into the simplest statement you can. Write down the statement that captures what your team is all about. That is your first rough draft of a vision. As you evaluate the resulting vision ask yourself:
– Is my vision clear on how my organization creates value?
– Is the vision ambitious but realistically possible?
– Is the vision worth pursuing and does it win people’s commitment?
– Does the vision explain how we differentiate ourselves from competitors?
– Is the vision concise and does it consist of only a few critical words?
How does the first draft of your vision stack up against these questions? If you are not happy with your vision relative to these questions, continue to revise it until you are.