How to Write a Good Vision Statement
by Tom Wright, on Jun 25, 2020 10:00:00 AM
A vision statement is the anchor point of any strategic plan. It outlines what an organization would like to ultimately achieve and gives purpose to the existence of the organization. A good vision statement should be short, simple, specific to your business, leave nothing open to interpretation. It should also have some ambition.
This comprehensive guide will take you through the entire process of writing a good vision statement, with examples and resources to help along the way.
Let's start off by reminding ourselves of what our end-game looks like in terms of our finished plan:
What is a Vision Statement for?
Here's a quick reminder of what we're trying to achieve when writing a good vision statement (not everything will apply to every organization, but you'll get the gist...)
- Creating the pinnacle of the funnel, which every significant action we do going forward will ultimately be contributing towards.
- A memorable and inspirational summary that describes our reason for existence as an organization - one that will help to motivate existing employees and even attract high-quality new ones.
- A succinct statement about what our organization is trying to achieve to help third parties such as investors or the media better understand us.
- A 'limiter' that helps us to rule out certain opportunities which do not ultimately contribute to our vision.
This article is part of our mini-series 'How To Write A Strategic Plan'. You can download our free 'How To Write A Strategic Plan' eBook which contains all of the articles from the series.
We've also incorporated this strategic planning process into our strategy software which you can try free of charge here. The software walks you through a guided strategic planning process with real-time analysis and feedback to help you create an effective strategy.
You can also find the individual articles here:
- How To Write A Strategic Plan: The Cascade Model
- How to Write a Good Vision Statement (This Article)
- How To Create Company Values
- Creating Strategic Focus Areas
- How To Write Strategic Objectives
- How To Create Effective Projects
- How To Write KPIs
You can use these guides either alongside a free trial of Cascade Strategy (our cloud-based strategy platform) or standalone.
What a good Vision Statement SHOULD be:
There are a few common rules that pretty much every good Vision Statement will follow:
- They should be short - two sentences at an absolute maximum. It's fine to expand on your vision statement with more detail, but you need a version that is punchy and easily memorable.
- They need to be specific to your business and describe a unique outcome that only you can provide. Generic vision statements that could apply to any organization won't cut it (see our examples below for more on this point).
- Do not use words that are open to interpretation. For example, saying you will 'maximize shareholder return' doesn't actually mean anything unless you specify what it actually looks like.
- Keep it simple enough for people both inside and outside your organization to understand. No technical jargon, no metaphors, and no business buzz-words if at all possible!
- It should be ambitious enough to be exciting but not too ambitious that it seems unachievable. It's not really a matter of time-framing your vision, because that will vary by organization, but certainly, anything that has a time-frame outside of 3 to 10 years should be challenged as to whether it's appropriate.
- It needs to align to the company values that you want your people to exhibit as they perform their work. We talk more about company values in this article - but once you've created those company values later on, revisit your Vision to see how well they gel.
Following these rules should give you a pretty good starting point for creating a good vision statement. To help refine things further, we'll now look at some examples of vision statements that did not follow these rules. We've also created a free PDF eBook that you can download: 100 of the World's Greatest Vision Statements.
Some not-so-good Vision Statements (and why)
Here are some examples of real-life vision statements that in our opinion, could do with a little tweaking. For each one, we'll try to justify our thinking...
Our company vision is to make every brand more inspiring and the world more intelligent.
Well, this one gets a tick on the 'ambitious' test if nothing else. But.....is it realistic that 'every brand' will use the services of this company? How about 'making the world more intelligent.' Let's try to quantify what that might actually look like. Or let's not. Because it's impossible. Not to be too harsh though - there are strong elements here; 'making brands more inspiring' makes a lot of sense and has some depth.
Provide maximum value for our shareholders whilst helping our customers to fulfil their dreams.
This 'vision' could pretty much apply to any company, anywhere (it's an insurance company in this case - but would you have guessed that?). It's sort of like saying 'Our Vision is to succeed as a business'. Not wrong - but certainly not inspiring or unique.
We are committed to achieving new standards of excellence by providing superior human capital management services and maximizing the potential of all stakeholders - clients, candidates and employees - through the delivery of the most reliable, responsive....[and it goes on, but that's probably enough]...
It would be quite hard to write a vision statement filled with less tangibility and more subjectivity than this one. 'New standards of excellence'. 'Superior human capital management'. 'Maximizing the potential'. There are simply far too many buzzwords, intangibles, and vagueness here for this to be either memorable or inspiring.
We are of course being rather harsh. But hopefully, the above examples illustrate well some of the pitfalls to avoid when creating your own vision.
What is the Process of Writing a Good Vision Statement?
There are literally hundreds of articles out there that give examples of bad and good vision statements. There's also plenty of articles that give a high-level overview of what to consider when creating your own. However, what we noticed was lacking was a concrete process to go through to help you create one. As such, we've outlined a process that we have used with clients in Cascade that might work for you too.
There are plenty of great vision statements out there that will not conform to the process below. But if you're struggling or just need a place to start, then hopefully this will help.
Step 1: Define what you do as an output
Start by being exceptionally clear about what it is your organization actually does. Be careful to remain 'output focused' rather than 'input focused'. For example, Microsoft famously had a vision statement to Put a Microsoft powered computer on every desk in the world (slightly paraphrased). Strictly speaking what Microsoft 'do' is make computer software, but for the purposes of their Vision, they looked forward to the actual outcome of this process - i.e. computers on desks.
Let's look at some other hypothetical examples:
A bakery makes bread. But the outcome is consumers enjoying that bread.
A consulting company gives advice. But the outcome is the success of others based on that advice.
A government department does...lots of things. But the outcome is better lives for the citizens they serve.
Whilst this process may seem obvious - you would be surprised by how rarely organizations actually go through this process in a formal, written way. Doing so will take you a long way towards creating your vision statement - BUT it's not enough alone! If it was, all bakeries, for example, would have the same vision statement - which is hardly inspiring!
Step 2: Define what unique twist your organization brings to the above outcome
Very few products or services these days are truly new - most are more like reinventions of something that exists already, but with a different approach, focus or spin.
At some point in your organization's lifespan - someone will have believed that the reason that THIS organization would be successful where others have failed, was because of.........something.
You need to define that something!
Let's take our bakery example. So far, our vision statement is looking pretty generic, along the lines of customers enjoying our bread. But why will they enjoy our bread MORE than the bread from the place next door? Is it because we use centuries-old traditions passed through generations of our family? Because we only use premium grade locally sourced ingredients? Whatever your unique selling point is - let it shine through in your vision statement.
Step 3: Apply some high-level quantification
A common problem with a not so good vision statement is ironically, that it's too visionary! With no possible end in sight (or a totally unrealistic one) - the initial inspiration derived from a good vision statement can quickly turn to frustration or even cynicism among employees and customers.
That said - don't be too specific or apply specific metrics at this stage (they will come later in our planning process).
Sticking with our bakery example, we might want to refine our target audience to 'every customer who walks through the door'. That's fine, or maybe we want to be bolder: 'every customer within walking distance of a store'.
The quantification we apply could also be industry specific. If you're a B2B - are you shooting for SMEs or multinationals for example?
Step 4: Add relatable, human, 'real world' aspects
OK, your vision statement by this point should be getting pretty close to finished. But one final trick you can apply to help make it even more memorable is to add a real-life aspect. This will allow people to conjure up a solid mental image to associate with your vision statement. Let's look at an example - which of the following statements is likely to be more memorable:
a) To have every working person in the world using Microsoft product.
b) A Microsoft powered computer on every desk.
I would argue that (b) is more memorable because as I read this, I'm actually visualizing a computer (in my case) sitting on a wooden desk in a room. There's nothing wrong with (a) but it's highly conceptual and thus difficult to transform into a mental picture. Let's look at another example:
Ensure that every customer who leaves our store, does so smiling.
Here, using the word 'smiling' as opposed to 'happy' is powerful, because it conjures a mental image of a person smiling.
It won't always be possible to bring this level of tangibility to a good vision statement - but if it is, I would strongly encourage doing so.
Free Access to Vision Statement Toolkit!
The toolkit includes examples of 100+ vision statements & a step-by-step process for building your own. Click the download button below.
How to Bring your Vision Statement Together
Let's finish off with a look at what a completed good vision statement could look like for our bakery. Based on the above:
Producing and selling locally sourced cakes and pies that are so delicious and satisfying, that every customer who leaves our store does so with a smile.
If we deconstruct this into our various steps, we can see each at work as follows:Producing and selling locally sourced cakes and pies that are so delicious and satisfying, that every customer who leaves our store does so with a smile.
Step 1 - The output
Step 2 - The twist
Step 3 - The quantification
Step 4 - The human connection
Let me reiterate - there are other ways to write a good vision statement. Even if yours doesn't look like this at the end, following the process above will help you to bring structure and purpose to your effort.
In our next article, we'll be looking at creating a great set of company values. The article will discuss how values should link to your vision statement, and how they can support your strategic planning. You can download the entire series 'How To Write A Strategic Plan' as a free eBook.