Paint a picture of the future and tell me your aspirations for your organization?
We’ve posed that question countless times to business owners over the last fifteen years. The answers we hear are as diverse as the companies we work with. Some want to maintain their lifestyle…some are altruistic and want to make a difference in peoples’ lives...some want to leave a legacy for the next generation… and others want to increase their company’s valuation, find a buyer, and cash out.
Every business owner has a vision for their company. It may not be hanging on the wall; it may not communicated or understood by the rest of the organization – but they have a vision.
Your vision is a picture of the future. It’s what you ultimately want to create and achieve. What you talk about with those closest to you in moments of reflection. It is what keeps you moving, even when there is nothing left in the tank. It is directional and guides strategic decision making. And if it’s compelling enough, it taps into what is intrinsically important to others, and as result, it galvanizes people around a common goal.
An organization’s vision declares a company’s aspirations (goals) over a typical planning horizon of 3–10 years. When you think about the next 3–10 years:
Where will your organization play?
Who will you serve?
How will you define success?
What do you want your people, your customers and community to say about your organization?
When will you achieve your dream?
Highlight the key points or themes that run through your responses and your vision will start to bubble up and reveal itself.
If you are writing a vision statement (which we encourage every business owner to do), we recommend keeping the following in mind:
- Be clear. The primary purpose of the vision is to clearly communicate where the organization is heading and why. Clearly defining your ‘Where’ and ‘Why’ is essential for establishing strategy, performance measures, and providing people with a line of sight between their work and the bigger picture.
- Be authentic. If you don’t believe in the picture of the future that you are painting, how do you expect others to come along on the journey with you?
- Avoid corporate speak. Well written vision statements capture the business owner’s voice. The plainer the language, the better.
- Less is typically more. There's no right or wrong regarding the length of a vision statement; however, you stand a better chance of people connecting with it if it is kept to one to two sentences.
An example of a vision statement that adheres to these guidelines is the often cited vision that Bill Gates and Paul Allen had for Microsoft 35 years ago. In 1980 they began to tell their organization that they envision a future where there is “a computer on every desk and in every home.” What is amazing about their vision is that in 1980 Microsoft employed just 40 people and had revenue of around 8 million dollars. (1)
Another example of a well-written vision is GDG Suez (now Engie), a French multinational utilities company. Their vision is to:
“Redefine the relationship between mankind and energy in order to make energy a source of progress and sustainable development.”
When we read this statement, we know what they want to achieve (a redefined relationship between mankind and energy) and why (to make energy a source of progress and sustainable development). The statement is easy to understand and concise. And it’s authentic, as evidenced by Engie’s business model and strategy. It also creates an emotional connection to a higher purpose. Redefining mankind’s relationship with anything, much less energy is pretty powerful stuff.
In our next post, we’ll cover our take on mission statements and what we can learn from Alice in Wonderland.