What’s your vision for the next year? Five years? Ten? Not just your personal vision, of where your life will take you, but a vision for your company.
We all daydream, imaginations running wild through fields of desire or fear, but overtime we learn to suppress those fantasies and ground ourselves in a limited reality. To be sure, molding dreams into the shape of the possible is healthy and helpful and goal setting. After all, failing to connect desire and reality leaves us sedentary.
Is there a place, though, for vision to be useful when less restrained? It turns out there is. According to Forbes, employees who find their company’s vision to be meaningful have average engagement scores of 68%, while the average for those who don’t is down around 18% – a sizeable difference! Moreover, about 70% of workers don’t understand their company’s vision at all. Not only is this bad for engagement but if an employee doesn’t understand the company vision, they likely don’t understand specific goals either. This makes it nigh on impossible to align their work with overall strategy.
Clearly, it pays to heed one’s fantasies and create from them a vision in a form that can be shared with employees. This isn’t some sort of call to daydream instead of doing real work – it’s a case for listening to one’s inner voice and reaching for greatness when writing a vision statement. For this to work, though, vision has to be grounded and connected to strategy.
What company vision is not
Part of clearly defining your vision is defining what “vision” means in the first place. Vision is not your company’s mission. The mission is what is already grounded in the day to day and is not as forward thinking. The mission encompasses all the concrete goals that have been laid out, which employees should already be working to meet, and it is the sum of those parts. Company vision extrapolates from the mission. It gives the organization a grand idea of where you might go as an extension of where you already are.
Vision also is not strategy. Vision is a where and a what, while strategy is a how. Strategy explains what deliverables drive the company toward its vision. It is the gears and mechanisms that make a vehicle move, as well as the physics behind those. Vision is the make and model of the car, and it is the destination to which you drive it.
All three – mission, strategy, and vision – are indispensable. Missing any one piece leaves you without complete direction and ability to manage. So how do you define your vision and communicate it to your organization? The answer is by using a vision statement. Vision statements organize your thoughts and are easily distributed in a company. However, they must be carefully planned. Although a vision statement is lofty and future-based, it must still be organized and grounded in able to become actionable and understood by a wide audience. These 7 simple steps will help define your company vision.
1. Know your goals
Setting appropriate goals is an art. Anyone who has done it successfully will tell you that goal setting helps them accomplish more than they even realized was possible. Setting goals includes not only where you plan to end up but the steps that will get you there. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that including steps was defined earlier as “strategy” and not as vision. This supports the notion that mission, strategy, and vision are all necessary. In establishing your company’s vision, consider your goals. Consider what your strategy will be, but separate your endgame from that and include it as one factor in creating your company vision. Goals, however, are not the only piece of the puzzle.
If you’re stuck, Locke and Latham’s principles of goal setting might just help get you kick started.
2. Consider your company’s values
Every company has values, whether implicit or explicit. Another challenge in creating a company vision is defining these values. These can be simple one word phrases, such as “innovation” and “communication”. They can also be slightly longer, for example, “access to education for all” or “adding a personal touch to healthcare”. You may discover that what you want your company’s values to be are not what they are in the current moment. This type of self discovery is important and factors into creating your vision. When you have defined the values by which you conduct business or hope to conduct business, lay them out side by side with your goals. Understand how these categories interact and what you can create from the sum of their parts. Those are two of the main ingredients that go into your company vision. The last relates to what you already accomplish every day.
3. Building on a mission statement for a great company vision
Obviously if you run a law firm, your vision won’t be to transform the company into a restaurant chain. This is a silly and extreme example, but the point it makes is that for your vision to grow organically and develop properly, it must be an extension of what you already do successfully. How to construct a mission statement and define your company’s mission is a topic for another article entirely, but you should look to your mission statement as a jumping off point for your vision. Carefully consider where your organization is in the present before moving on to your vision. Write out your mission if a mission statement doesn’t already exist, and again lie this side by side with the goals and values you have already established. These three ingredients together are what you will consider in building your vision. Beyond these, the rest of the steps in defining your company vision deal with refining and solidifying it.
Fastcompany.com offer their insight on how to write a great mission statement for your business
4. A simple company vision is key
Keeping your vision simple serves a twofold purpose. On the one hand, you need your employees to understand and support the vision. They cannot accomplish either of these if it’s overly complicated. Additionally, keeping your vision simple makes it more likely that you will meet your goals and turn your vision into a reality. A complicated vision is a sign that it is reaching in too many directions, which will limit the quality of each in the end, or that you have added steps you will later discover to be unnecessary. All of this will keep you from concentrating your energy in the direction where it will go furthest. Carefully consider what parts of your vision are absolutely necessary and dispose of the chaff with the knowledge that you’re guaranteeing yourself a higher quality final product.
For inspiration, we recommend Invision’s simple and bold company values, they are worth checking out.
5. Don’t be ambiguous
This step can be difficult as you’re building a list of desires that aren’t based in what you’re actively accomplishing on a day to day basis, but make no mistake that specificity is key. While lofty, your vision still needs to be so clear that you can show it to five independent observers and they can all come up with the exact same interpretation. Keeping your vision simple, as described in the previous step, helps greatly in staving off ambiguity. In fact, these two steps are important for very similar reasons. Ambiguity makes it difficult for both employees and you to make your vision into reality. There are two practices that promote specificity, as well as having benefits for many other reasons. Write your vision down and speak it out loud. In your head much more ambiguity will live on than you even realize. Writing and speaking force you to put it into concrete terms. Follow this up with editing, not only immediately after, but a week or a month after you originally write it. Perspective and distance are almost as good as having a second pair of eyes on your project.
6. Be forward thinking
This has been implied in previous steps that focused on building your vision based on your mission. However, it’s worth reiterating that your vision should be forward thinking. This means thinking of what your industry’s landscape will look like in the future. It also means considering how to keep your vision sustainable and scalable. A vision that cannot sustain rapid growth always runs the risk of holding back your business, or worse. Consider how to carry your business on for years to come. This brings us to our final step in defining your company vision.
7. Establish timeframes
Though your vision should look into the future, that does not mean you should look indefinitely into the future. Have a specific timeline for when you intend to meet certain milestones. This even applies to the more nebulous elements of your vision, not only your concrete goals. This is where the ideas of creating a vision and setting goals intersect. Both require a timeline. Goals in turn are made up of smaller goals and milestones. Along your journey you make it to each of those small victories, and eventually those take you to your completed goal. A number of goals then come together, along with the other elements we discussed to form the infrastructure of your vision.
Each step we discussed here had several common elements. One was clarifying your vision for yourself and for your employees as much as possible in order to help you reach it. Another was using concrete terms and breaking those down into smaller steps. All of this was designed to help make your vision a reality, and that brings us to our ultimate point. Don’t define a vision statement purely for the sake of defining a vision statement. Do so with the express purpose of making your vision into your mission, your future hopes into your present lived experience. Create your vision in order to live it.