From your company’s perspective, imagine an ideal world in the near future. Now, describe that world in a statement, one that explains your company’s purpose while at the same time inspiring and evoking an emotional response from your stakeholders.
That is a vision statement, and if your company doesn’t have one, it needs one. In my 20-plus years as a consultant and coach, I’ve worked with many organizations to create and refine their compelling and inspiring vision, and I’ve developed some recommendations on how to establish — and communicate — your corporate vision.
First, think about emotions. For a vision statement to drive employee engagement, it should spark an emotional response that makes them want to contribute to building your company’s ideal future.
Next, go ahead and be idealistic. Outline your organization’s intended purpose and reason for being beyond making a profit (making money is an outcome, not a reason). You’re passionately pursuing a dream state. Consider these questions:
- How will we grow in terms of revenues, profits, customers, staffing, locations?
- What will we be known for?
- What will have happened (system updates, office moves or openings, sales programs)?
- What will happen (future goals beyond the planning horizon)?
Ask yourself, “How does my company help the world fulfill its destiny? Realistically, where are we today and where, with determination and conviction, will we be in the future?” Vision is about igniting a fire. It’s a rallying cry, stating clearly and convincingly the dream pinnacle of any organization. It’s about identifying, then achieving, the organization’s full potential.
Plan ahead — way ahead.
Start by thinking ahead 10-15 years. One of my clients asked how far out they should look and was shocked when I told her 15 years. “I can’t plan that far out!” she said. “That’s nothing more than a dream.” “Exactly!” I told her. “No one is going to be inspired by simply saying ‘beat last year’s numbers with this year’s numbers.’ You have to give your people a reason to want to jump out of bed every day and be a part of this journey.”
A good vision statement is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When everyone shares the vision, employees will adapt the behaviors required to make the vision a reality.
Gather the right team.
Who should you include as part of the team that creates the vision? CEOs at their core are primarily visionaries. They can see the future clearly and paint a vibrant picture of what it should look like, although they’ll likely need help turning that dream into actionable steps. The founder can establish a vision alone or work with their executive team, but it’s critical their voice lead the charge since they are ultimately the public face of the vision day in and day out.
Senior leadership teams can contribute in two key ways:
- They vet the vision — is it achievable? Is it in alignment with who we say we are and what we represent?
- They establish the individual steps, milestones and obstacles, helping bridge the gap between reality and vision. The leadership team puts the vision into action and sets the example.
Watch out for these common mistakes:
- The CEO takes a backseat. In my experience, a strong belief in the vision starts with the CEO. Their behavior serves as an example. If (s)he doesn’t get involved, won’t participate or delegates the process to a team, employees won’t “buy in” to the dream, and establishing a compelling vision becomes an exercise in futility. Have you seen companies that have their vision posted on a wall but it becomes part of the décor and fails to encourage specific behaviors? Ultimately the vision falls flat and inspires no one. Sadly, this is extremely common.
- You only scratch the surface. When done correctly, visioning can sometimes be awkward, emotional, uncomfortable, explorative and revealing. When companies rush, stakeholders deem the process half-hearted, unemotional or too generic to be meaningful. The flip side is a vision that is too “gimmicky.” If it doesn’t get uncomfortable at some point, you’re probably not digging deep enough.
- You fail to articulate “why” you exist. Vision begins as an inward expression that resonates with your customers to become a valuable component of both the employee and customer experiences. Author Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Vision meaningfully answers the “why” question.
- The vision is created in isolation and withers on the vine. Too often I’ve observed company leaders commit to the vision exercise, then fall short at continually conveying and communicating the message throughout the organization. Company goals, department goals and individual goals are more meaningful and compelling when they support the overall vision.
Follow a few best practices:
- Review your vision often, preferably quarterly. Unexpected changes — like a global pandemic — can accelerate, delay or alter progress toward the vision. By revisiting it often, you can bridge the gap between the present and the future and keep the vision realistic and actionable.
- Consider using an outside facilitator. An outside facilitator can help guide a CEO and their team through the process, help them explore exposures and vulnerabilities productively, keep the conversation on track and avoid derailment. An outsider also provides a unique perspective, similar to the voice of the customer, and asks questions that can provoke deeper thought and discussion.
- Communicate the vision frequently. In my experience, it takes most people 8-12 times to hear something before it truly resonates. Incorporate your vision into all human resources functions (hiring, firing, rewards, recognition) and communicate it like it’s going out of style!
Creating your organization’s vision is an exercise where you’ll want to “go big or go home.” Take the time to do it with excellence. With the right team, goals and messaging, your vision will permeate all aspects of your corporate culture and set the tone for the future of your organization for years to come.
Originally published for Forbes