Several clients have recently asked me to help them craft their vision statements. So, what makes for a good vision statement? Let’s
My vision is improving.
start with a few of my favorites:
Google: To organize the world’s knowledge and make it useful.
Lawson: We make our customers stronger.
University of Denver: A private school dedicated to the public good.
US Air Force: Fly, Fight, and Win.
Denver Public Schools: Every Child Succeeds.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS): A World Free of MS
What can we learn from these? Here are a few pointers:
- Keep it short — no more than a dozen words. You want it to be memorable.
- Put customer requirements first — too many vision statements start with what the company does. In my opinion, that’s a mission statement. The vision statement summarizes your impact on your customers or the world at large.
- Know the difference between mission and vision. A mission statement is more about how we do things. A vision statement is about what happens to the world when we do those things.
- Use the “so what/ so that” process to get to ultimate benefits — start with a statement of what your company does. Then ask yourself, “so what?” Answer with a “so that” statement. Repeat the process until you get to a logical conclusion — that’s probably the benefit you want to focus on. So, let’s say you provide services to hospitals. You start with:
We provide world-class services to hospitals…
…so that hospitals will be more effective …
…. so that hospitals can save more lives.
- Imagine end states, even if they put you out of business — the vision statement of NMSS is, “A World Free of MS”. When we achieve that, NMSS will no longer be needed.
- Verbs are good — I like the US Air Force statement: four words, three of which are verbs. Active verbs (and actions in general) are memorable.
- The verb “to be” is not your friend — it’s lazy and verbose. None of my favorite statements include it.
- Ditto for the verb “to strive” — in your vision statement, don’t strive to do something. Just do it. (Where have I heard that before?)
- It’s not just words, it’s culture — you can develop elegant phrases but, if they don’t fit your culture, you’ll just create cynicism.
- Live it — it’s good to write a statement, it’s better to have it absorbed into your employees’ hearts, and minds, and actions. The only way to do that is to set the example and live the words, even when it’s painful to do so.