Vision statements are challenging. But there are numerous resources available all over the web on how to create them. It’s easy to find guidance and direction in their development. And countless examples. So why are there so many poor vision statements with all of this help readily at hand? Even among Fortune 500 companies that should know better. Take the following as an example from a prominent brand that everyone knows:
“Becoming the global leader in terms of customer value.”
Can anyone guess who this is? It could be just about anyone, right?
In contrast, consider this:
“To provide access to the world’s information in one click.”
So what’s the difference? One is generic and uninspiring. On the other hand, the Google vision statement is very simple, succinct, meaningful, and relevant. It is easy to see that it might only apply to Google. Most importantly it is aspirational and sets an almost unachievable goal to work towards. It’s visionary. So what’s the problem?
Three Common Mistakes in Crafting a Vision Statement
There are a few things to avoid when creating, or recreating, a vision statement.
1. Too Generic
Generic vision statements are by far one of the most common mistakes. A good example is this one from Microsoft.
“To help people throughout the world realize their full potential.”
Let’s start with what’s good about this vision statement. It’s short. And you could argue very aspirational. But beyond that, it could be for any company or organization. It lacks relevance to what the company is or does. A vision statement doesn’t have to stand on its own. But it does need to connect what it does and hopes to achieve. For example, Nike’s vision is To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. You may not necessarily know that it’s Nike if taken out of context. But you would know that it is a company that serves athletes in some compacity. It’s that little bit of relevance that makes it meaningful.
2. No Vision
For every Vision there should be a Mission. And vice versa. Interestingly many companies just focus on their mission – without a vision. But Vision and Mission have different roles to fulfill as essential pieces of a brand platform. They are inextricably linked and complement each other. The vision basically defines what the company can be and the impact it can make at some distant point in the future. It’s forward-looking. The mission, on the other hand, defines what the company can do to fulfill its vision aspirations. It’s more of an action plan. But many companies feel that all they need is a Mission statement. But in doing so they often combine what would otherwise be pieces of both a vision and mission. Here is a good example of Boeing’s mission statement.
“To connect, protect, explore, and inspire the world through aerospace innovation”.
Boeing doesn’t technically have a vision statement. But then one could argue this would make a good vision statement. But then what about the mission?
On the other hand, Ikea is a good example of how vision and mission can work together.
The Ikea vision:
“Create a better everyday life for many people.“
The Ikea mission: Offering a wide range of well-designed, functional, home furnishing products at a price so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.
If we put them together it would read: Create a better everyday life for
many people by Offering a wide range of well-designed, functional, home furnishing products at a price so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.
It may be a technicality but defining both a vision and mission will provide clarity on what the future should ideally look like as well as what to do to get there.
3. Too Verbose
Vision statements that are verbose and long try too hard to cover everything. But, as a result, end up with something too detailed, too limiting, overly complicated, confusing, and forgettable. The following vision from IBM is a good example:
“To be the world’s most successful and important information technology company. Successful in helping our customers apply technology to solve their problems. Successful in introducing this extraordinary technology to new customers. Important because we will continue to be the basic resource of much of what is invested in this industry.“
A better approach might be to recast this into a Vision/Mission construct: (Vision) To be the world’s most successful and important information technology company. (Mission) By helping our customers apply technology to solve their problems. Introducing this extraordinary technology to new customers. Continuing to be the basic resource of much of what is invested in this industry.
Even the simplest vision statements are hard to create. There is a lot to consider to distill everything down to a few words to set the horizon of where the company is headed. But in basic terms, a good vision statement should be short, succinct, relevant, meaningful, and inspiring. Most of all it needs to be visionary. That’s the challenge.