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Lead Your Team Strategy

What Is a Vision Statement?

What Is a Vision Statement?
Credit: zamzawawi isa/Shutterstock

Many intrepid entrepreneurs have found themselves staring at a blinking cursor on a bare screen as they struggle to formulate a vision statement for their business. Although we all know a good one when we hear it – such as Disney's "to make people happy" or Instagram's "capture and share the world's moments" – creating a well-crafted vision statement can be a daunting task. However, those willing to do the hard work are rewarded with a vision statement that encapsulates the core ideals that give their business its shape and direction and provides 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 Katie Trauth Taylor, CEO of the writing consultancy Untold Content. "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."

"While a mission statement focuses on the purpose of the brand, the vision statement looks to the fulfillment of that purpose," explained Jessica Honard, co-owner of North Star Messaging + Strategy, a copywriting and messaging firm that serves entrepreneurs. 

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

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

Liz Robinson, who recently co-launched the logistics and expediting business ASAP Cargo, recommends starting any vision-writing session with an individual brainstorm exercise. "This allows for people to be uninhibited by others' opinions and ideas, which leaves room for more organic creativity," said Robinson.

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. But most importantly, it must speak directly to your employees.

"If your employees don't buy into the vision, you'll never be able to carry it out," said Keri Lindenmuth, marketing manager with the Kyle David Group, a provider of web and tech solutions. "The vision statement should be something your employees believe in. Only then will they make decisions and take actions that reflect your business's vision."

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," Brehme said. "Weave these concepts and beliefs into your vision statement."

Additionally, Lindenmuth advises looking at the vision statements of competitors within your industry to get an idea of what they are saying and to determine how you can differentiate your business from theirs.

A vision statement should be concise, no longer than a sentence or a few paragraphs. According to Falkowski, you want your entire team and organization to be able to quickly repeat it and, more importantly, understand it. However, a vision statement needs to 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."

According to Taylor, her team established a foundational understanding of their company vision by asking probing questions about the core of their business. This included asking what deliverables they most enjoyed working on, the partners they loved working with and the ambiance they hoped to create when collaborating.

"It's important to start with the big questions – after all, this type of statement establishes your organization's vision for what impact your business makes on the world," said Taylor.

Honard advises asking questions that reflect the eventual scale and impact your business will have when constructing a vision statement. 

These are a few of the questions she uses in guiding clients to identify their vision statement: 

  • What ultimate impact do I want my brand to have on my community/industry/world? 
  • In what way will my brand ultimately interact with customers/clients? 
  • What will the culture of my business look like, and how will that play out in employees' lives? 

"Once you've answered these questions, you've created a roadmap between your present and your future," said Honard.

Don't be afraid to dream big once you gather all your information and get down to writing. 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 that is 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."

Those interested in taking their vision one step further can create a brand vision board, according to Taylor. A vision board includes a company's tagline, a "who we are" statement, a "what we do" section, a business vision statement, ideal clients overview, client pain points, content mission statement, advertising, products and SEO keywords.

"In a way, a vision board serves as a one-page business plan that anyone in a company can reference quickly to remember the key concepts that drive the work," said Taylor.

A vision statement should stretch the imagination while providing guidance and clarity. It will 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 make it inspiring.  
  • 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 offer a clear idea of your company's path forward. Honard said that many of her clients have used their vision statements to direct their overall plans for the future. For example, they've adopted new marketing initiatives aimed at moving them closer to their vision, pivoted their focus to clearly reflect their desired outcome, or doubled down on one particular aspect of their brand that is working in service of their vision.

Above all, your vision statement should be a constant reminder to you and your team that the end goal is bigger than the everyday. This message is an important one to hold on to, especially on the most difficult days.

"As a small business, every day is an adventure, and sometimes that adventure leads us to a dead end or a ditch," said Robinson. "On those days, it's important to remember the passion with which you launched your business – the values that helped get your company to where it is and the vision you have for a better future."

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.