This comprehensive guide will take you through the entire process of writing a well-thought-out and compelling business vision statement.
Here’s what you will discover inside:
- Why is a vision statement important for company goals?
- Vision Statement vs Mission Statement: What’s the difference?
- Bad Vision Statements Examples (And What Makes Them Bad)
- Helpful Tips for Writing your Vision Statement
- Fail-proof formula: Write your vision statement in 4 simple steps
- Great Vision Statement Examples For Inspiration
- How to effectively communicate the company vision?
What is a Vision Statement?
In short, a vision statement describes the desired future state of a business within a 5-10 year timeframe and guides the direction of the business's efforts. It is essentially the future objectives of a business. The vision statement is also one of the key elements in a highly-effective business strategic plan.
Why is a vision statement important for company goals?
We explained the real purpose of the vision statement in this article, but here’s a quick reminder of what we're trying to achieve with a company vision statement:
- Improve the decision-making process by setting a 'limiter' that helps us to rule out strategic initiatives and opportunities which aren’t aligned with business long-term goals.
- Make a succinct statement about what our organization is trying to achieve to help third parties such as investors or the media better understand us.
- Create a strong North Star that can guide and motivate employees even during difficult times if it is taken seriously.
- Develop an engaging vision statement that’s one of the key elements of thriving company culture.
The bottom line is that a vision statement isn't just a nice-to-have. It should be included in every business plan and strategy discussion, especially during the strategic planning process, to ensure the organization and its departments stay aligned with its vision and don’t get sidetracked.
Vision Statement vs Mission Statement: What’s the difference?
The most common mistake we see across the internet and with our clients is that most people do not understand the difference between a company's vision and mission.
While we covered this a bit more in-depth in this article, here’s a short recap:
- A vision statement describes a long-term, idealistic state of the FUTURE.
- A mission statement is a roadmap to a specific destination (your VISION) that explains how will you achieve it.
Mistaking one for another can prevent an organization from reaching its full potential.
So, while keeping this in mind, let’s look at some “vision” statements examples and analyze where they fit so you can avoid doing the same mistake when crafting your own vision statement.
Bad Vision Statements Examples (and why)
Here are some real-life examples of vision statements that, in our opinion, could do with a little tweaking. For each, we will explain what could be done better.
"Provide maximum value for our shareholders whilst helping our customers to fulfill their dreams."
If this was your vision statement → Well, let’s hope it isn’t. That’s a classic mission statement example that describes HOW the company will achieve its vision.
"Our company vision is to make every brand more inspiring and the world more intelligent by 2023."
If this was your vision statement → You would want to make it more specific and relatable. Is it realistic that 'every brand' will use the services of this company? How about 'making the world more intelligent.' Can you be more specific on which brands? What does it mean to make the world more intelligent? Not to be too harsh though - there are strong elements here; 'making brands more inspiring' makes a lot of sense and has some depth.
"We aspire to be the most admired and valuable company in the world."
If this was your vision statement → We would suggest you rethink your decision. Can you even make it more empty than it is? Which company doesn’t want to be the most admired and most valuable? Your vision statement should be more specific than that.
"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]...
If this was your vision statement → you’d want to make sure it is less tangible and subjective. 'New standards of excellence'. 'Superior human capital management. 'Maximizing the potential'. There are simply far too many buzzwords, intangibles, and vagueness 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.
Helpful Tips for Writing your Vision Statement
Keep in mind that vision creation doesn't begin with sitting behind a desk and writing black on white. Reach out to your stakeholders and team members who will play a role in realizing the company's vision. Organize a workshop, or more if necessary, to brainstorm ideas and gather their feedback.
This toolkit with a template and workbook can help you with brainstorming exercises and navigating the whole process.
As a result, including other stakeholders in the vision-creation process will not only yield ideas but also get buy-in from the beginning since it will be their vision too.
Here are 8 tips to help you write a memorable vision statement:
- Keep it short - max 2 sentences. Your vision statement should be punchy and easy to remember.
- Make it specific to your business and describe a unique outcome that only you can provide.
- Write it in the present tense.
- Do not use words that are open to interpretation. Saying that you will maximize shareholder return in 2022 doesn't mean anything unless you specify what that means.
- Simple is best. There is a tendency for people to overcomplicate things, but you should make your vision clear enough for both people within and outside your organization to understand. Stay away from jargon, metaphors, and business buzzwords.
- It should be ambitious enough to get people excited, but not so ambitious that it seems impossible to achieve.
- A vision statement isn't a one-off thing and should evolve with your business. When brainstorming your vision for the future, stick to a five-year timeframe. It's an ambitious end goal that's far enough ahead to work towards, but not too far for the organization to lose focus and commitment.
- Vision should align with your company's core values. We go deeper into company values in this article, but when you have created your company values, you should review your vision to see if it aligns.
If anything, you should memorize these 4 words before you go into crafting your own vision statement: Short, Specific, Simple, and Ambitious.
Fail-proof formula: Write your vision statement in 4 simple steps
There are literally hundreds of articles out there that give examples of good and bad 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 outcome
Start by being exceptionally clear about what it is your organization actually does. Be careful to remain 'outcome focused' rather than 'output 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!
TIP: If you are not sure where your organization wants to be in the future, you can use different tools, like SWOT or SOAR analysis, that will help you formulate your vision and future-oriented goals.
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 looks 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
Ironically, a common problem with a vision statement that isn't as good is that it's too visionary! With no possible end in sight (or a totally unrealistic one) - the initial inspiration derived from a solid vision statement can quickly turn to frustration or even cynicism among employees and customers.
That said - this doesn’t mean you should put numbers or any financial metrics to your vision statement. This will come later in your planning process.
However, you still want to add some high-level quantification to make it achievable.
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 small businesses 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.
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 vision statement - but if it is, I would strongly encourage doing so.
Our tip for creating a good vision statement is to use our formula, which we explain below, in conjunction with the CASCADE vision framework.
Ask yourself the following questions to check if your vision statement checks all boxes of a good vision:
- Is it Clear?
- Is it Ambitious, but not seemingly unattainable?
- Is it Stimulating?
- Is it Concise
- Is it too Abstract?
- Duration: Is it limited to a specific time range?
Does it Encourage you to take action?
Great Vision Statement Examples for inspiration
First, let’s look at the vision statement on an example of the bakery we used in the previous section.
Following our 4-step process, the final vision statement looks like this:
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:
Step 1 - The output
Step 2 - The twist
Step 3 - The quantification
Step 4 - The human connection
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.
Of course - there are other ways to write a well-thought-out and effective vision statement. So let’s look at some other examples of great vision that don’t match our vision statement formula but still make an engaging and memorable company vision:
Vision statement: To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
Vision statement: To establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.
Vision statement: A global force for Learning-through-Play.
We love this one because it’s short, sweet and easy to remember.
Vision statement: To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world's transition to electric vehicles.
Note: If you look closely, you’ll see that their vision statement is a mix of vision and mission statement. Let’s remember the difference between these two: Vision shows your business desired future state, while the company’s mission describes how you will get there.
Cascade tip: If you’re in doubt about what is a vision statement and what is a mission statement, do this simple test with two questions:
- What do they want to achieve? To create the most compelling car company of the 21st century… (vision statement)
- How? … by driving the world's transition to electric vehicles. (mission statement)
Want to see more examples of a great vision statement? Check this article with 17 vision statement examples from top companies, such as Patagonia, Ikea, LinkedIn, and Disney.
How to effectively communicate the company vision?
Let's say you've finally crafted the perfect vision statement that makes everyone in the C-suite proud. Marketing updated the website, ran a PR, and posted across all company social media channels. The new direction is making waves in the company, but as time passes, everyone forgets about it and gets on with their business-as-usual.
If you have a vision but take no action - your organization has no future. In other words, you need to keep the company's vision top of mind 24/7/365 if you want to achieve it. Consistent communication is the key to success.
Keep your vision statement in a place where everyone can see it on a daily basis.
You can start by including your vision in every company-wide meeting. Here at Cascade, we make sure to run the all-hands meeting every week. Here’s what our agenda usually looks like:
- Drive alignment around company vision and overall strategy
- Communicate the strategy priorities
- Share updates and progress toward key business goals
- Celebrate our accomplishment
- Establish two-way communication between employees and executives
Turn your vision into a strategic advantage
We have entered a new normal - an environment where change is the norm. You may have a top-flight board and a great executive team, but the success of your organization depends on your leadership. Your vision for the future needs to be clear and strong so people can understand it and join forces behind it.
In short, unity and a laser-sharp focus are what separate winning businesses from losers these days.
Cascade has your back, offering speedy and agile business transformation to help you align teams behind a shared vision and drive business growth. See Cascade in action to discover how you can turn your vision into reality.
This article was originally part of our ‘How to Write a Strategy’ series:
- How To Write A Strategic Plan: The Cascade Model
- How to Write a Good Vision Statement (This Article)
- How To Create Company Values
- Creating Strategic Focus Areas
- How To Write Strategic Objectives
- How To Create Effective Projects
- How To Write KPIs