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More than half of employees aren’t motivated by their company’s mission. That’s likely not helped by the fact that 61% of employees don’t even know their company’s mission, according to research from the Achievers 2015 North American Workforce Survey. Is it any wonder, then, that mission and vision statements are rarely seen as anything more than punchlines for Dilbert comics? But a vision statement is more than just a punchline.
Considering that 62% of workers want to work for a company that makes a positive impact, a vision statement can be a powerful reminder to employees that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. At the very least, it should be the true north that a company always strives for, and it should help provide a clear answer whenever anyone asks “Are we doing the right thing?”
There’s a lot of confusion about what a vision statement actually is, especially as it relates to the mission statement since the two can be very similar. Both represent a high-level goal or objective the company wants to accomplish. Both sit above the overall corporate strategy in the hierarchy of planning documents. Both should be designed to change minimally and to be proactive rather than reacting to specific market conditions.
The big difference is that the mission statement is customer-facing (“What does our company want to do for our customers?”), and the vision statement is community-facing (“What do we want to do for our community and the people?”). The former answers questions about what a company will provide to its audience, while the latter answers questions about what a company provides for the world.
A vision statement is the highest level internal goal a company will ever set. Skipping out on one deprives companies of having an overarching objective. That, in turn, can handicap company efficiency significantly — teams who set goals perform 20-25% better than teams who don’t.
What’s worse than not creating a vision statement, however, is creating one that’s unclear or that employees don’t engage with — the stereotypical Dilbert joke vision statements full of buzzwords and jargon that don't actually mean anything. Research shows that employees who find a vision statement highly meaningful are 4.25x more engaged than employees who don’t.
Crafting a clear, actionable, impactful vision statement isn’t just an exercise in creative writing. It allows companies to carve out a clear competitive advantage in focus, performance, retention and recruiting.
This is where things get tricky. There isn’t a single answer for what a great vision statement looks like, though they all tend to share some common characteristics:
Those criteria may seem vague, and they are. This is because good vision statements are so personal and specific to the organization that it’s impossible to create a simple list of requirements.
Below is a clickable template to help you get started. Here, give it a try:
A company’s vision isn’t just about executives, founders, and decision-makers. Instead of ending the process at the top, great vision statements also take into account the hopes and goals of the entire company.
Talk to employees, individually or in groups, to get an idea of what excites them: What motivates top performers? What makes employees want the company to succeed? What brings people into the office early and keeps them there late? These things are just as much a part of a company’s success as the vision of the people at the top.
Not only is getting feedback from employees at all levels important for crafting a meaningful vision statement, but it also gets employees engaged with the process. If one of the main goals of a great vision statement is employee engagement, then starting early is a must.
With the employee feedback is collected, it’s time to start writing. It’s helpful to think of a time frame when composing the statement itself: “In 5 years, we will be ____________.” Pick a time far enough in the future to create stability, but not so far that it will be impossible to track progress towards the goal. That’s not to say that the statement becomes obsolete when the timeframe expires, only that it’s helpful to force long-term thinking by selecting a time frame longer than standard business planning.
Next, think about a directive that the organization should follow and why this directive matters. A directive is exactly what it sounds like: an order that prescribes specific modes of action.
When you combine a value, a directive, and a timeframe, you get a very clear vision statement that’s immediately applicable at every level of the organization. For example, Teach For America has a memorable vision statement: “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.” In this case, the value is education, the directive is for employees to provide a great learning experience and the time frame is indefinite — the company will work tirelessly until all children “attain an excellent education” for a better world.
The question that needs to be answered is: “Can anyone at any level of our organization look to the vision statement for guidance in implementing a strategy, tactic, task, goal, or objective? Will this statement provide a helpful lens for employees to consider their challenges through? Does this vision inspire every employee to be better?”
Rather than make this just a thought experiment, talk to employees and solicit feedback on the vision statement. Business culture often idolizes leaders with a clear and unyielding vision for what they want to build, but the best of these leaders often arrive at their vision not through isolation but through listening and understanding what their people want and need.
Originally published on February 11th, 2020, last updated on August 16th, 2022.