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Lead Your Team Strategy

What Is a Vision Statement?

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

From Disney's "to make people happy" to Instagram's "capture and share the world's moments," well-crafted vision statements are at the heart of every successful company. Although the individual details and focus vary, all effective vision statements encapsulate the core ideals that give a business its shape and direction and provide a roadmap to where it wants to go.

"A company vision statement reveals, at the highest levels, what an organization most hopes to be and achieve in the long term," said Kathryn Taylor, CEO of Untold Content, a writing consultancy with clients in various industries. "It serves a somewhat lofty purpose – to harness all the company's foresight into one impactful statement." 

A vision statement provides a concrete way for stakeholders, especially employees, to understand the meaning and purpose of your business.

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. 

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 meant to inspire and give direction to employees of the company rather than customers.

"Your mission statement is your company's reason for being – it's all about what you're doing right now," said Alison Brehme, founder of Virtual Corporate Wellness, a provider of employee health and wellness programs. "Your vision statement is where your company is going – it's all about your future."

"A vision is aspiration. A mission is actionable," added Jamie Falkowski, managing director at marketing and communications company Day One Agency.

Although both mission and vision statements should be core elements of your organization, a vision statement serves as your company's north star.

"A vision statement is essentially an articulation of your hopes and dreams for the future, what kind of a mark you want to make on the world with your business, and how you see that business developing into the future," said Nate Masterson, marketing manager for Maple Holistics, an organic and natural beauty products company. "You are setting the direction of your company, staking out an identity, and sharing it with your partners and employees in a simple and powerful fashion."

The first step in writing a vision statement is determining who will play a role in crafting it. To accomplish this end, Brandon Shockley, director of research at branding and marketing firm 160over90, 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.

Falkowski suggests the use of individual stakeholder interviews as another effective way to encourage candor among all invested parties and to gather real and honest feedback.

Masterson recommends brainstorming sessions as a way to focus your team as they work to articulate the company vision. "List questions to be answered that will bring out expected challenges, shared values, desired outcomes, and perceived unique strengths and features of your group." Employees can identify and highlight common themes, as well as describe an organization's future in words or pictures as a basis for crafting a vision statement.

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. It is pointless to hang a vision statement in the office lobby or promote it on social media if it never is truly integrated into the company culture.

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

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

Creating the perfect vision statement may seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn't have to be. You don't have to reinvent the wheel to develop a powerful vision statement. Instead, use the information you already have to guide your work, as Brehme suggests.

"A company's mission, purpose, goals and values are all involved in the creation of a company vision," she said. "Weave these concepts and beliefs into your vision statement."

A vision statement should 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 and, more importantly, understand it, said Falkowski.

However, a vision statement needs be more than a catchy tagline. "[It] can be smart and memorable, but this is for your team and culture, not for selling a specific product," Falkowski said.

You can start by mapping out the most audacious goals your business hopes to achieve, Taylor suggested. "Reviewing your long-term goals in a collaborative setting will help you then zoom out on what your organization and the world will look like if you achieve them. That zoomed-out view of your success is really the heart of your vision statement."

Your vision statement should also be a reflection of your company's brand values. "It should correlate with how you want your employees to conduct themselves and what you want your business to stand for," said Steven Pritchard, founder of insurance comparison tool Cuuver.

Most importantly, a vision statement needs to describe an outcome that has never happened before in your industry, according to Pritchard. He advises asking yourself, "What is it that [I] can achieve that nobody else has thought of already?"

Brehme also recommends tackling the question of how you want your organization to be remembered. Your answers to these inquiries will help you shape your vision statement.

Once you gather all your information and get down to writing, don't be afraid to 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 and its aspirations.

Shockley said 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. A goal like 'delivering an exceptional experience' applies equally to a hospital, bank or fitness club."

A vision statement should stretch the imagination while providing guidance and clarity. It will help inform direction and set priorities while challenging employees to grow. But most importantly, a vision statement must be compelling not just to the high-level executives of your company, but to all employees.
Based on our expert sources' advice, here's a quick recap of what to keep in mind when formalizing a vision statement:

  • Project five to 10 years in the future.
  • Dream big and focus on success.
  • Use the present tense.
  • Use clear, concise and jargon-free language.
  • Infuse it with passion and emotion.
  • Align it with your business values and goals.
  • 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 should 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.

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.