A vision is much more than a feel-good, milquetoast collection of words plastered on the wall that no one reads, i.e. “Safety is our first priority”. It is a compelling bit of short text that points to the your future destination, explains why you on this journey and what values are going to guide you along the way. The vision should be a sentence that briefly encapsulates what you are about and is something people can recite quickly from memory. When people share a common vision, they are in alignment and have the same picture of success.
However, writing a effective vision is a bit of a challenge. In my experience, the most important aspect around a compelling vision is brevity and economy of words – the shorter the better. Additionally, a vision should be free of meaningless business, management or technical jargon and speak to the impact you are planning to have in the greater world. This is crucial since a vision that is internally focused, or has a short half-life, i.e. “be the number one Asian sales region for FY 2013”, does not inspire people to act outside their own self-interest or beyond their current abilities.
There are two things that trouble me about many visions. First, most visions are delivered fait accompli with little, or no, meaningful opportunity provided to people for reflection, feedback or understanding. As a result, visions become disconnected from their day-to-day activities. In my experience, a vision is most powerful when all participants are given an opportunity to contribute to the final text or add their own personal meaning to connect the vision to their lives. Second, since many visions are disconnected from the day-to-day experiences of people, the vision is not used to guide actions when choices are unclear. That is a shame since the vision is designed to be our guide to our imagined future and speaks to the values and principles that will get us there.
The following statements are visions from a variety of Fortune 100 companies (and a few non-profits) gathered in early 2013. The statements that I have put in italics are the statements I consider to be weak
- Advancing the health of the health care system by advancing the success of our partners.
- To have the best competitive corporate, operating and financial performance.
- Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.
- To bring sustainable energy solutions home to everyone.
- [Company] should be first-and-foremost on any new enterprise data center migration short-list.
- To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
- To design and create in this decade the new global network, processes and service platforms that maximize automation, allowing for a reallocation of human resources to more complex and productive work.
- To be the global energy company most admired for its people, partnership and performance.
- A world where everyone has a decent place to live.
- To safely market and distribute energy and petrochemical products while offering innovative value added services.
- To be the most admired company in the supply chain industry by exemplifying unity, growth and excellence in everything we do.
- To create a more prosperous society through automotive manufacturing.
- To be a social and business catalyst, liberating and inspiring people with simple ideas and services to help them connect, collaborate and co-create in new and exciting ways.
- Wetlands to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.
- Create value for customers to earn their lifetime loyalty.
- To create a diverse and inclusive environment. Diversity and inclusion are key drivers of creativity, innovation and invention. [Company] wants to make diversity and inclusion a conscious part of how they run business throughout the world.
- To be the best retail bank in the world. To achieve this vision [company] aims to be: the best bank to work for, the best bank to bank with, the best bank to invest in.
- To produce cars and trucks that people will want to buy, will enjoy driving and will want to buy again.
- To help our customers grow and demonstrate how they can turn opportunities into reality.
- A television network to be viewed in every country in the world in English as well as the language of that region.
- Leading global investment bank with a strong and profitable private clients franchise.
- The continued success of [company] depends on how well each of [company’s] employees adheres to the highest standards mandated by the company’s Code of Ethics.