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What Is a Vision Statement?

vision statement
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A carefully crafted vision statement can help you communicate your company's goals to employees and management in a single sentence or a few concise paragraphs. While a well-thought-out statement may take a few days or weeks to craft, the result will be a tool that helps inspire strategic decision making and product development for your business for years to come.

Why is this important if your company is already successful? According to a recent study that appeared in the Harvard Business Review, up to 70 percent of employees do not understand their company's strategy. Failure to understand your company's position can lead to poor decision making at all levels of an organization. For that reason, the first step toward crafting a vision statement is to take a careful look at where you are as a company, your place in the industry and your realistic goals for the intermediate and long term.

Vision statements are aspirational; they lay out the most important primary goals for a company. Unlike business plans, vision statements generally don't outline a plan to achieve those goals. But by outlining the key objectives for a company, they enable the company's employees to develop business strategies to achieve the stated goals. With a single unifying vision statement, employees are all on the same page and can be more productive.

Linsi Brownson, founder and creative director of business strategy group Spark Collaborative, said a vision statement is an opportunity to revisit what first fueled your interest in starting or owning the business. "The best way to begin is to reflect on some of the most significant events or ideas that have impacted the company so far," Brownson said. "It often dates back to the owner's childhood interests or experiences that ignited a passion, which ultimately led to the creation of the company."

So, what should a vision statement contain? "A high-quality and inspiring vision statement for a small business should have two key characteristics: It needs to state where the company wants to be in the near future, and it also must have a level of excitement and motivation to it," said Andrew Schrage, founder and CEO of financial consulting firm Money Crashers. "Use your company-culture description for more details on the goals and direction of your business."

Vision statement vs. mission statement

A vision statement should not be confused with a mission statement. Mission statements are present-based statements designed to convey a sense of why the company exists to both members of the company and the external community. Vision statements are future-based and are meant to inspire and give direction to the employees of the company, rather than to customers. A mission statement answers the question, "Why does my business exist?" while a vision statement answers the question, "Where do I see my business going?"  

"I view a 'business vision' as a combination of both aspirational and tangible goals," Brownson said. "A mission statement is intended to clarify the 'what' and 'who' of a company, but a vision statement adds the 'why' and 'how' as well."

As a company grows, its objectives and goals may change. Therefore, vision statements should be revised as needed to reflect the changing business culture as goals are met. However, when you're writing the vision statement, you should approach it as a document that will last at least several years, said Tiffany Silverberg, a professional writer and editor for businesses.

Silverberg noted that a vision statement should go beyond profit margins and internal benefits and look toward the long-term effect they want to have on their customer base, their industry, the economy and/or the environment.

How to write a vision statement

Writing your vision statement is a time for creativity, ambition and fun, but the task should be approached seriously. "There is a process to this, and it's not usually quick or simple," Brownson said. "The best way to begin is to reflect on some of the most significant events or ideas that have impacted the company. It often dates back to the owner's childhood interests or experiences that ignited a passion, which ultimately led to the creation of the company."

To get started, dream big and make a list. Don't worry about practicality for now — what initially looks impossible could be achieved down the road with the right team and technologies. Brainstorm with a group of employees to visualize where you may see yourselves in the midterm and long-term future.

"Identify some core values that have been brought to the organization," Brownson said. "Then, pose the questions, 'What do we do right now that aligns with these values? Where are we not aligned with these values? How can we stay aligned with these values as we grow over the next five years, 10 years?' Those questions address your current situation, for better and worse, and help identify the bigger-picture vision."

Next, ask yourself what problems your company hopes to solve in the next few years. What does your company hope to achieve? Who is your target customer base, and what do you want to do for them?

"Based on your responses to these questions, ask yourself what success will look like if you accomplish those things," said Jené Kapela, owner and founder of Jené Kapela Leadership Solutions. "This answer should shape your vision statement."

Roy Farmer, owner of leisure-product company Allstate Home Leisure, recommends writing an imperfect first draft "from the heart," and then choosing the elements from that draft that really speak to you. Consolidate and review the list, and then rewrite, he said.

"Repeat this process a few times, until you feel like it's done," Farmer told Business News Daily. "Then, take your statement to people you respect and trust. Ask them what they think, but be prepared for both positive and negative feedback."

Another strategy to follow when writing your vision statement is to imagine that your company will be appearing in a publication in five to 10 years.

"Draft out a short article describing your business in this projected future," advised Neil Desai, director of marketing agency Dynamic Digital. "What has been its biggest accomplishment? How many employees does it have? What is its net worth? How does your company compare to its rivals? Go all out, even if it's unrealistic."

Asking a professional for help might be appropriate in some situations, Brownson added. "People are usually resistant to the first [brainstorming] part of the exercise, but that's actually the easiest and most fun," she said. "The hard part is distilling it into a phrase that is flexible, consistent and concise. Internal issues and marketing or sales issues are often a sign of a vision disconnect. That may be a great time to bring in a professional!"

Tips for crafting your vision statement

Vision statements should stretch the imagination while providing direction and clarity. A good vision statement will help inform direction and set priorities while challenging employees to grow. It's important that the vision statement be compelling not just to the high-level execs of your company, but to all employees.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • When describing goals, project five to 10 years in the future.
  • Dream big, and focus on success.
  • Use the present tense.
  • Use clear, concise language.
  • Infuse your vision statement with passion and emotion.
  • Paint a graphic mental picture of the business you want.
  • Have a plan to communicate your vision statement to your employees.
  • Be prepared to commit time and resources to the vision you establish.

Your completed vision statement will give your employees a clear idea of your company's path forward. Then, it's up to you to nurture and support that vision and to inspire your employees to do the same.

Elaine J. Hom also contributed to this story.

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