Vision and Mission

by Rus Slater

Creating a vision

A vision statement can be produced by a sole individual or by a group of people. If you are going solo, make sure you are in the right mood before you start. You need to spend time thinking in a wildly optimistic fashion. This is not the time to be limited by practicalities and what you believe be to current truths.

If you are going to work in a team, get people who have a positive outlook and agree some ground rules, such as

  • All ideas are valued
  • There are no wrong ideas
  • This is a process of trying to build on peoples’ dreams, so don’t be constrained by current reality
  • If the current situation isn’t good, admit it, accept it, but don’t get into a moaning session about it
  • Everyone should participate, everyone is equally important
  • Be as creative, open, even wild, as possible
  • You are looking at five to ten years; almost anything is possible
Note

Sometimes, if things are bad and have been for some time, the people who have been your greatest complainers may now relish the chance to have some input; now is the chance to harness their negative energy. Those who have just ‘shut up and put up’ in the past may be more than happy to just carry on without making the effort of striving for a better future.

Aim high

Ask yourself questions such as ‘What would be great?’ or ‘What kind of organisation would we love this to be?’ or ‘What would make me look forward to going to work?’ Jot down everyone’s answers to these questions and then discuss them. Avoid focussing on the past (why aren’t we great?) or the present (what is stopping us?) and focus on the perfect future (what could we be?).

Consider...

If you were asked to come up with as many ideas as you could to earn ten pounds by the end of the day, some ideas would better than others, but even the bad ones would probably earn someone ten pounds in a day.

Then ask yourself whether any of the ideas could earn someone a million pounds by the end of the day.

The vast majority of ideas have absolutely no chance to make anyone a million pounds, and a select few have only a very, very slim chance. Moral of the story...

You don’t get million-pound ideas from a ten-pound vision.

In other words, the quality of your vision determines the quality and originality of your ideas and solutions. A powerful vision statement should stretch expectations and aspirations, helping you step out of your comfort zone.

Perfect future

From these discussions, identify the closest thing you have to a consensus idea of the perfect future; this becomes your draft vision statement.

When writing this vision statement, use adjectives and adverbs that stretch the organisation, and excite and motivate you. Do you want to ‘improve your processes’ or ‘dramatically improve your processes’? Did Kennedy want to ‘bring the man back to earth’ or bring him safely back to earth?

Once you have the first draft in writing, live with it for a couple of days; think about it, and ask others for their input.

Apply some basic litmus tests that relate to the way your vision looks to different stakeholders:

  • How does this vision look to staff?
  • How does this vision look to managers?
  • How does this vision look to shareholders?
  • How does this vision look to prospective customers?
  • How does this vision look to present customers?

A vision that serves one set of stakeholders, may well not work for others. For example:

  • A vision that relates solely to shareholder return may have a negative impact on non-shareholding staff
  • A vision that relates solely to customers may have little appeal to shareholders
  • A vision that relates solely to new customers may have a very negative impact on existing customer loyalty.

Consider the old BBC vision; ‘to be the best managed organisation in the public sector’. Is this going to be acceptable to licence fee payers, who are definitely one of the major stakeholders?

Remember, nothing is set in stone. The vision statement you create today may work for the next six months or the next six years, but ultimately the environment will change and then your vision statement may need to change as well. Or you will achieve it and need a new vision to take you further!

Another thing to bear in mind is how the vision will fit within a larger vision that may already be in place. If the vision is below organisational level, say a division, department, function or team, ask whether the vision fits in with the higher-level vision. To think of an analogy, consider the matrioshka, the Russian nesting doll: each level of subsidiary vision may have its own design and colour, but it must be the right size and shape to fit into the larger vision.

Examples

Below are a couple of examples of vision statements that pass these acid tests.

Vision for Glasgow

We want Glasgow to flourish as a modern, multi-cultural, metropolitan city of opportunity, achievement, culture and sporting excellence, where citizens and businesses thrive and visitors are always welcomed.

Coca-cola vision

To achieve sustainable growth, we have established a vision with clear goals.

Profit: maximising return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall responsibilities.
People: being a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can be.
Portfolio: bringing to the world a portfolio of beverage brands that anticipate and satisfy people’s desires and needs.
Partners: nurturing a winning network of partners and building mutual loyalty.
Planet: being a responsible global citizen that makes a difference.

Realistic?

A vision statement is the first step towards achieving the results you truly desire.

The purpose of the vision statement is to inspire, energise, motivate, focus and stimulate your creativity, not to serve as a measuring stick for success; that is the job of your objectives and goals.

However, some people may object to an optimistic or unrealistic vision statement because they may consider it a failure when they fall short of the best possible outcome.

This is a valid concern, but you can still gain the benefits of a powerful and compelling vision statement by creating two versions:

  • An idealised version to inspire and motivate
  • A ‘realistic’ version that you can use as a target (though this could actually form the basis of your mission statement).

Just keep in mind that, back in the early 1980s, Microsoft’s vision of...

A personal computer in every home, running Microsoft software

was considered by most people to be highly unrealistic. After all, only three years earlier, Ken Olsen, chairman of one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers, DEC, had gone on record saying, ‘There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home’.

In fact, Olsen wasn’t talking about PCs, but about a central computer that controlled everything in the home; he was, however, widely quoted out of context and it was this misquoting that has become received wisdom concerning his meaning.

It is safe to say that, even now, not every home has a PC in it and not every PC runs Microsoft software, but this doesn’t mean Microsoft has failed: the purpose of the vision statement is not to serve as a ‘real’ target against which you will measure your achievements to determine whether you have succeeded or failed. The purpose of the vision statement is to open your eyes to what might be possible.

Once you have created your vision statement, you have to do something with it: you need to communicate it to others.

Vision killers

As you engage in the visioning process, be alert to the following vision killers:

  • Tradition – ‘This organisation has always stood for...’
  • Fear of ridicule – ‘Oh No! Now we are expected to be a Prophet!’
  • Stereotypes of people, conditions and roles – ‘You won’t get XXX to take part in this’; ‘Don’t you think in the current economic climate we ought to be focusing on more important things?’; ‘It’s not my job’...
  • Complacency of some stakeholders – ‘We have got this far without one/with the existing one, so why do we need to do this’
  • Fatigued leaders – ‘I have enough trouble dealing with the unions, the shareholders, the bank, the regulator; I just don’t have time!’
  • Short-term thinking – ‘We hit target; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’
  • ‘Naysayers’ – ‘We had one of those in my last company; it didn’t work there either.’