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Lead Your Team Strategy

What Is a Vision Statement?

What Is a Vision Statement?
Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

A carefully crafted vision statement is at the heart of every successful business. This statement clearly and concisely communicates your business's overall goals, and can serve as a tool for strategic decision-making across the company.

"A vision statement, no matter how big or small the company, should serve as a description of the company’s overarching aspirations," said Phil Shawe, CEO and cofounder of TransPerfect, a translation services company. "It encompasses the big picture and envisions where the company is heading long term."

A vision statement can be as simple as a single sentence or can span a short paragraph. Regardless of the individual details and nuances, all effective vision statements define the core ideals that give a business shape and direction. These statements also provide a powerful way to motivate and guide employees, said Addam Marcotte, vice president of operations and organization development, with executive coaching and organizational change firm FMG Leading.

Why does this matter? Research shows that employees who find their company's vision meaningful have engagement levels of 68 percent, which is 19 points above average. More engaged employees are often more productive, and they are more effective corporate ambassadors in the larger community.

Given the impact that a vision statement can have on a company's long-term success and even its bottom line, it's worth taking the time to craft a statement that synthesizes your ambition and mobilizes your staff. [See Related Story: The 4 Things That Keep Employees Interested in Their Jobs]

Before determining what your vision statement is, you need to understand what it is not. It should not be confused with a mission statement. Those statements are present-based and 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 illustrates the purpose of the company, what it does and what it intends on achieving. Its main function is to provide direction to the company and highlight what it needs to do to achieve its vision," said Joel Klein, business, marketing consultant and producer of BizTank, a SharkTank-style platform. "Meanwhile, a vision statement illustrates where the company would like to see itself further down the line, what it hopes to achieve and what its goals are."

A mission statement answers the question, "Why does my business exist?" A vision statement answers the question, "Where do I see my business going?"

Jamie Falkowski, vice president of creative and experience at the marketing communications firm Day One Agency, said, "A vision is aspiration. A mission is actionable."

The first step in writing a vision statement is determining who will play a role in crafting it. Brandon Shockley, of consumer insights agency Plannerzone, Inc., recommends developing a vision statement through a series of workshops with key stakeholders who represent a cross section of your organization. Teams of people can craft alternate versions of the statement and receive feedback from the rest of the group.

"Think of it as 'Shark Tank' for your vision statement," Shockley said.

Falkowski added that individual stakeholder interviews offer another effective way to get real and honest feedback in which people won't hold back on how they feel.

Additionally, a business should determine early in the process where its vision statement will appear and what role it will serve in the organization. This will prevent the process from becoming merely an intellectual exercise, said Shockley.

"The vision business statement should be thought of as part of your strategic plan," he said. "It is an internal communications tool that helps align and inspire your team to reach the company's goals."

"As a business founder, you are the one shaping the vision, and your actions should reflect the vision by example. The vision reflects in every action and gives the reason for you and your team to enjoy what they do and work towards a common goal," Klein said. "The vision is the inspirational drive that wakes you up every morning and gives you a sense of purpose. The vision will also help you attract clients or users who believe in your vision and mission."

As such, vision statements should be viewed as living documents that will be revisited and revised.

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," said Linsi Brownson, founder and creative director of business strategy group Spark Collaborative. "The best way to begin is to reflect on some of the most significant events or ideas that have impacted the company."

A vision statement should also be concise, no longer than a sentence or a few paragraphs. You want your entire team and organization to be able to quickly repeat it back and more importantly understand it, said Falkowski. But a vision statement should be more than a catchy tagline, he said.

"(It) can be smart and memorable, but this is for your team and culture, not for selling a specific product," Falkowski said.

To begin, Brownson advised first identifying core values of the organization when drafting your vision statement. Then, ask yourself, "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 and help identify the bigger-picture vision, Brownson said.

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."

When you're crafting your vision statement, dream big. Don't worry about practicality for now — what initially looks impossible could be achieved down the road with the right team and technologies. Work on shaping a vision statement that reflects the specific nature of your business.

Shockley noted that there is nothing wrong with a vision statement being a little daring, distinct or even disagreeable.

"If a vision statement sets out a generic goal that anyone can agree with, it is likely to produce mediocre results," he said. "A goal like 'delivering an exceptional experience' applies equally to a hospital, bank or fitness club."

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. The vision statement should be compelling not just to the high-level execs of your company, but also to all employees.

Based on our expert sources' advice, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • 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 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.

"Don’t be afraid to think big from the beginning, as the vison statement can set you on your overarching path to success," Shawe said. "However, expect that it will also need to evolve. The only constant in business is change."

Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl. Katherine Arline and Elaine J. Hom also contributed to this story. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Paula Fernandes

Paula is a New Jersey-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. She spent nearly a decade working in education, primarily as the director of a college's service-learning and community outreach center. Her prior experience includes stints in corporate communications, publishing, and public relations for non-profits. Reach her by email.