Avoid Chest-Beating in your Vision Statements

Balaji Krishnamurthy

Does your vision statement read something like this: “Be the uncontested leader in providing the best products and unparalleled service in our industry and geography”? Or does your vision statement read like this: “We imagine a world in which all of us enjoy great prosperity and people live in total harmony”? Both of these two statements were written to be superlatives and unlikely to be achieved. However, they illustrate two approaches to creating vision statements. The former asserts that we (our organization) are going to be great. The latter asserts that the world is going to be great. Is one approach better than the other?

What is a vision?

Some months ago our Food for Thought article on “The Power of Intentionality” encouraged readers to be intentional in creating an organizational narrative. Included in that narrative was a vision, a term that we left undefined. So, I ask again, what is a vision?

A vision is a simple, uplifting, inclusive, believable, but challenging, vivid picture of the future.

When, in 1900, Henry Ford imagined a world in which every family had a car, was he speaking just about what the Ford Motor company would do? Or was he talking about the infrastructure that would be built in the world for which the Ford Motor company would play a humble part? Doubtless he knew that roads would have to be built for the cars to drive on, gas stations would have to spring up for the cars to be refueled, car dealerships would have to emerge for the cars to be sold and service garages would be needed for cars to be repaired. He had no intentions of building any of those things himself. In fact, he didn’t even have any intention of building steering wheels and rubber tires, which he was simply going to buy from others who would specialize in building them. So, what did he mean by his vision? He was describing a simple to understand, uplifting picture of a world that included everybody and would make everybody’s lives better.

Visions that describe an uplifting world that we will help create tend to carry more people than visions that portray a winner’s trophy that you will earn.

People tend to connect with the former. They are more likely to talk about it with their friends at the barbecue, because it is beneficial to the society as a whole. Talking about a trophy you are going to earn is bragging. Talking about an uplifting world is optimism.

Imagine you run a plumbing company. Your angle in the market is to provide helpful, efficient, trusted service to your clients. You want your customers to trust you and reach out to you with the same level of confidence that a person suffering from a cold would reach out to a box of Kleenex tissues. You could create a vision for your company to become the trusted partner of choice for plumbing services to commercial and residential customers in your county. This would be an “I am going to be great” vision. Alternatively, your vision might be to imagine a world in which service providers are regulated and held to the highest standards of customer satisfaction, not by the government but by the power of communication, social media and crowd sourced reviews. This is a “the world is going to be great” vision. In this latter vision, you are imagining a world where a consumer would be as confident hiring a service provider as they would be buying a name brand product.

If you make the vision about the world, how does it relate to you?

That is where your mission comes in. Your mission is a small sliver that you are going to carve out and tackle, thereby contributing to that vision. So in Henry Ford’s vision, his mission was to build affordable cars for the common man. He was just going to do one piece in the larger puzzle of a world in which every family had a car. In the plumbing company example, the mission might be to contribute to that vision by being a plumbing service provider that operated with total transparency of its customer satisfaction. By holding itself to a higher standard, the plumbing company contributes to creating that vision.

By creating a vision of an uplifting world to which all will contribute and a subservient mission of a specific piece of the puzzle you intend to fill, you allow yourself to speak about the vision and the mission with a sense of optimism and humility. People feel more connected to the vision and more encouraged by the mission.

Food for Thought is our way of sharing interesting concepts on corporate leadership and management with others who might find it useful. The thoughts offered are intended to be controversial and thought-provoking. They are intended to help our readers intentionally realize their potential, what we call Potentionality.


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