How to Write a Good Vision Statement

What is a Vision Statement?

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, and should have 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.
This article is part of our mini series ‘Strategic Planning 101’.  You can download our free Strategic Planning 101 eBook which contains all of the articles from the series below:

Get access to our strategic planning 101 guide!

Our strategic planning guide will walk you through creating your vision statement, values, focus areas & strategic objectives. Click the download button below.

DOWNLOAD YOUR 101 GUIDE!

You can find the entire series of articles we have on Strategic Planning 101 here:

  1. Strategic Planning 101 – The Basic Foundations
  2. How to Write a Good Vision Statement (this article)
  3. Writing Your Organisational Values
  4. Creating Focus Areas for your Strategy
  5. Writing Good Strategic Objectives

Due to the popularity of this article, we’ve also written an eBook that you can download which includes an expanded version of this post.

You can use these guides either alongside a free trial of Cascade Strategy (our cloud-based strategy platform) or standalone. Let’s start off by reminding ourselves of what our end-game looks like in terms of our finished plan:

 

good vision statement

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.

Get access to our vision statement toolkit!

This toolkit provides examples of 100+ vision statements and step by step instructions to create one. Click the download button below.

DOWNLOAD YOUR TOOLKIT!

What a good Vision Statement SHOULD be:

There are a few common rules that pretty every good Vision Statement will follow:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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 timeframe outside of 3 to 10 years should be challenged as to whether it’s appropriate.
  6. It needs to align to the Values that you want your people to exhibit as they perform their work.  We’ll talk more about Values in a future article – but once you’ve created those 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.

Last one…

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’. ‘Maximising the potential’.  There are simply far too many buzzwords, intangibles, and vaguery 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.

or…

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.

 

good vision statement

How to Bring your Vision Statement all 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.

Step1 – The output
Step2 – The twist
Step3 – The quantification
Step4 – The human connection

Let me reiterate – there are other ways to construct 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.

Get access to our vision statement toolkit!

This toolkit provides examples of 100+ vision statements and step by step instructions to create one. Click the download button below.

DOWNLOAD YOUR TOOLKIT!

In our next article, we’ll be looking at creating a great set of corporate values. The article will discuss how values should link to your vision statement, and how they can support your strategic planning. You can download this entire series as a free eBook here.

We’d love to hear your own thoughts about the above process of creating a good vision statement. Comment your own examples of a bad or good vision statement that really stuck with you!

Further reading & resources:

Showing 18 comments
  • Mark Patterson
    Reply

    Great article. Have read many such articles online over the past month and this is one of the few to actually stick its neck out and give some hard guidance on how to create a decent vision. It’s well written, straight forward and I actually feel like we can follow the advice here and get to a great outcome. Looking forward to the next in the series!

  • Sarah Wicks
    Reply

    I liked this simple process for creating a vision. There are several articles on this topic, but this is the simplest and most practical that I have seen.

    • Tom Wright
      Reply

      Great to hear Sarah – thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Mihai Ionescu
    Reply

    Actually, there is an even simple formula for creating a Vision Statement that is useful for the Strategy Management process. It includes three components:

    1. The Definition & Quantification of Success
    2. The Main Success Factors
    3. The Strategic Horizon

    Examples:
    ● J. F. Kennedy, 25 May 1961
    “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
    ● Volkswagen
    “By 2018 the Volkswagen Group is to be the world’s most successful and fascinating automobile manufacturer – and the leading light when it comes to sustainability.”
    ● Caterpillar
    ”By 2020 we will achieve shareholder return in the top 25% of the S&P 500 and become the global leader everywhere we do business: Our customers will make more money with us than with our competitors.”
    ● University of Leeds
    ”By 2015 our distinctive ability to integrate world-class research, scholarship and education will have secured us a place among the top 50 universities in the world.”
    ● Panasonic
    ”Panasonic is looking to be the leading company for green innovations in the electronics industry by 2018.”
    ● A.T. Kearney
    ”We will be a global collaborative partnership, top three where we choose to compete, double in size by 2020.”
    ● EADS
    ”Achieve around €80bn turnover by 2020 and reach a 50/50 balance in Airbus / other Divisions’ revenues. Achieve a 25% services share of business by 2020, focusing on high-value services initially related to platforms, requiring and developing both customer intimacy and product intimacy.”
    ● Coca-Cola Company
    ”More than double system revenue by 2020 while increasing system margins. More than double servings to over three billion a day by 2020 and be #1 in the nonalcoholic ready-to-drink business in every market and every category that is of value to us.”

  • Jeanette sjoberg
    Reply

    Going to give it a go Tom – if anything, helps to being clarity in the work I do – for others as well.

    • Tom Wright
      Reply

      Hi Jeanette – glad to hear! Let us know how you get on and if you have any questions.

  • Ian Heathcote
    Reply

    Hi really like this – going to check out the other articles in the series. One question, how would you address where ‘mission’ fits in relative to ‘vision’?

    • Tom Wright
      Reply

      Hi Ian – this is a really good question. Mission and Vision are indeed different and you can read more about the differences in the link below. BUT what we find is that when working with clients, there is SO MUCH confusion about this that it’s actually easy to just focus on one (Vision) and see how you feel about the output. The fact that you ask the question is a perfect example of this confusion. Strategy needs to be simple and easy to understand – in our experience there is no real need for both! Here’s the article:

      http://www.diffen.com/difference/Mission_Statement_vs_Vision_Statement

  • Rotimi Adeyeye
    Reply

    Pls what is an organisation vision cascade means

  • Geoff
    Reply

    Well executed article – thanks! But…

    Just for the record, the ‘computer on every desk’ vision was not Apple’s. That was actually the vision of Apple’s mortal enemy, Bill Gates/Microsoft!

  • Aurelien Gasser
    Reply

    I like it! Bravo. Easy and clear enough

    • Tom Wright
      Reply

      Thanks Aurelien! 🙂

  • Allan
    Reply

    Hi Tom, was useful / helpful in writing a Vision Statement. Also inviting you to read the Mission Statement. We are into promoting the relationship between The Elderly and The Youth (instead of old age homes !!) Thanks. Allan. http://www.thegoodshepherdhome.org

  • rp2801
    Reply

    I love the explanation. Really helps me out. Is there any email address that I could reach for questions? Thks, Tom

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