Crafting a Vision Statement

A vision statement is a powerful tool that has the ability to galvanize and motivate people around an idea. It provides a beacon and a direction, against which we can measure our own ideas, our actions and even our values.

A great vision has the following characteristics:

  • It is simple and idealistic, appealing to core values. These can be personal core values or a company’s core values;
  • It is challenging but also realistic. A vision is usually expressed in a way as to appear far reaching, but people must feel like that it can, somehow, be achieved;
  • It provides focus, serving as a guide when decisions have to be made;
  • It provides clear benefits. If you want people to follow your vision, you’ll have to provide one that they can invest in (emotionally first and actively later on).

One can find a lot of resources online and offline on how to write compelling vision statements. However, I’m much more interested in the process of crafting a vision. That introspective process that helps people and organizations alike to define a Vision.

Looking Within

In the 1996 Harvard Business Review article titled “Building Your Company’s Vision”, authors James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, outlined a framework to define organizational vision, suggesting that it should be made up of two fundamental components:

  • A core ideology
  • An envisioned future

According to the authors, the core ideology defines the character of the organization, which should endure beyond any external or environmental trends and changes, while the envisioned future should be laid out as a 10-30 year audacious goal with vivid descriptions of the result of achieving that goal.

Core Ideology

The core ideology is made up of core values and a core purpose. These are the guiding principles and tenets of the organization and it’s most fundamental reason for being.

Core Values

Core values are the enduring guiding principles of an organization. They are timeless and are not necessarily expressed in the mission statement, whose wordings might change over time. Rather, the core values are the underlying ideology that remains constant. These guiding principles should be intrinsic to all members of the organization providing a common frame for everyone and do not require external justification (“this is why we do what we do”). They provide the internal motivation to stay the path and keep on going, even in spite of adverse external circumstances.

Core Purpose

The core purpose of a company is it’s “raison d’être”. It expresses the soul of the organization, usually through a mission statement.

The core purpose should be expressed in a timeless and unattainable way. It should be a tantalizing objective, driving change and progress but never completely realized.

To uncover the organization’s true purpose, the authors suggest using the 5 Whys technique.

An example of a core purpose:

Hewlett-Packard: To make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity.

Envisioned Future

The company’s envisioned future is composed of a long term goal and a vivid, exciting description of a possible, plausible future state resulting from the achievement of that same bold objective.

Big Goals, Bold Mission – The Quest

Defining a bold goal to pursue might require a great deal of introspective thinking. The big goals we’re talking about can’t be achieved easily or quickly as that would defeat it’s purpose. As in a proper Quest, they should be nigh impossible to achieve while at the same time leave people wondering about the future if they were actually achieved. Also the mere expression of that goal through a Mission Statement should be inspiring and provide a focal point for the organization’s continued effort.

We shouldn’t forget that the whole purpose of this exercise is to capture people’s imagination and provide a focus that can stand the test of time – it is a Quest for the whole organization.

Here’s an example of a (fairly well-known) Quest, that was able to capture the imagination, not only of an industry, but of a whole generation:

Microsoft’s Mission Statement: A computer in every home and on every desk.

Vivid Description

A vivid description should help all of us visualize a greener, brighter future resulting from the successful completion of the Quest.

This description should enthuse and excite the listener. It should be passionate and emotional and should convey these feelings through it’s message. Business people tend to shy from conveying emotional messages about hopes and dreams, but that’s exactly how to motivate others. Great leaders know this and, as any student of rhetoric knows, have used it time and again throughout history to gather support around an idea or a course of action.

Summing It Up

Here’s a quick step through on how to craft your organization’s Vision:

Core Ideology

  • Define Core Values
    • Should be small in number (usually between 3 to 5)
    • Do not change through time
  • Discover Core Purpose
    • Company’s reason for being
    • Reflects people’s idealistic reasons for doing company’s work
    • Should be enduring (but not necessarily eternal)
    • Use 5 Why’s technique to get at the organization’s purpose

    Envisioned Future

  • The Quest
    • 10-to-30 year BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) or Bold Missions
    • Clear and compelling
    • It’s a unifying focal point of effort
    • Acts as a catalyst for team spirit
    • Has a clear finish line
    • Applies to the whole company
    • Requires a long timeframe to complete (10-30 years)
  • Vivid Description
    • Expressed as future casting
    • Should be Engaging
    • Should be Vibrant
    • Expresses what will it be like to achieve the previously set Bold Goals

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