At some point in our careers, we’ve all seen vision statements that attempt to fire up employees with inspiring words like “best,” “greatest,” or “biggest.” The problem is that without context, those words are flat, empty, and open to endless interpretation. How do we know when we’re the best, greatest, or biggest? To really ignite employees’ imagination and innovation, a vision must go beyond superlative adjectives and provide a true destination that people can see and work toward.
An authentic vision statement provides a word picture of what the organization intends ultimately to become — which may be five, ten, or fifteen years in the future. The statement should not be abstract — it should contain as concrete a picture of the desired state as possible, including a quantitative destination. When Muhtar Kent assumed the CEO position at Coca-Cola, he was asked about his top priority moving forward. Without hesitation he replied, “Establishing a vision … a shared picture of success. We call it 2020 vision and it calls for us to double the business in ten years. It’s not for the fainthearted but it’s clearly doable.” That is a vision! Clear, compelling, time-bound, and quantitative. Improve your vision statement with these tips
- Keep it short
The best vision statements grab our attention and stay with us because they communicate volumes in just a few words. Look again at Coca-Cola’s 2020 vision — double the business in ten years. Anyone can grasp and easily recall that statement. There is a direct correlation between the number of words in a vision statement and how well it is understood and acted on. More words, more confusion.
- Ensure it’s feasible
The goal in crafting a vision statement is to inspire employees to hitherto unimaginable levels of performance. However, there is a point at which the arc of inspiration bends toward the absurd and impossible. If you publish a vision with numbers that are clearly unachievable given your current prospects, it will lead to skepticism and disdain. Rigorous analysis of your situation should lead to the creation of a vision that balances breakthrough performance with unvarnished reality.
- Make sure it’s quantitative
One more time, the purpose of the vision is to create a word picture of your desired future. A growth target, a certain number of customers, entry into new markets, or any other myriad possibilities may encapsulate your desired future. Without a quantitative destination, employees are left groping in virtual darkness, uncertain of which direction to head in when apparently any will suffice.
In Undaunted Courage, his outstanding chronicle of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803, author Stephen Ambrose notes the great lengths taken by the two leaders to inspire their corps of discovery. And it worked. As Ambrose notes:
The men of the expedition were linked together by uncommon experiences and by the certain knowledge that they were making history, the realization that they were in the middle of what would without question be the most exciting and important time of their lives, and the obvious fact that they were in all this together, that every man was dependent on all the others, and they on him.
Imagine being able to harness the creative and intellectual power of your teams — the unprecedented heights you could reach. It’s there for the taking, and starts with the creation of a crystallizing vision.