Published Vision Statements Are Helpful But Not Necessary

Sometimes young entrepreneurs ask me to help write their vision statements. They believe a written vision statement is essential. I assure them the crucial issue isn’t the written vision statement, but their ability to articulate their vision to those who will join their firms and others. To be sure, writing the vision provides clarity, but doing the vision consistently is vital.

Vision Statements

Vision Statements reflect long-term aspirations
Vision Statements reflect long-term aspirations

A firm’s vision is a broad roadmap of its long term aspirations. It is “what you want to be when you grow up.” It is the owner’s view of the future that he or she wants. The vision answers: “what will I do long-term?”

Contrast the vision with the organization’s mission and values. The mission is the purpose: why do you exist. The values show what’s important to you. Most firms do not write vision and mission statements, but they record values. Enron had excellent published values, but the leaders contravened them. The message: Printed documents without appropriate behavior are irrelevant.

Several companies never mention the word vision. They refer to mission alone. Does this mean they have no vision? No. They choose not to write one. And that’s fine. Still, writing and distributing a simple, coherent vision statement will help spread the message throughout the organization. However, research shows that firms without written vision and mission statements do no better or worse than those with written statements.

Examples of Vision Statements

  1. Avon: “Be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women—globally.”
  2. IKEA: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”
  3. Toys R Us: “Put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parents’ faces.”
  4. Oxfam: “A just world without poverty.”
  5. Caterpillar: “A world in which all people’s basic needs such as shelter, clean water, sanitation, food and reliable power are fulfilled in an environmentally sustainable way and a company that improves the quality of the environment and the communities where we live and work.”

       In the 1970s

    1. Honda: “Destroy Yamaha”
    2. Nike: “Crush Adidas”

Why Write a Vision Statement

The vision statement is a formal communication tool telling what the owner wants the firm to become. Thus, he or she must persuade everyone in the organization to believe and accept the vision. That’s why hiring the right people and releasing them to use their abilities is crucial to a firm’s success. You don’t want people who do not buy into the vision. Folks must believe the vision is realistic to rise to the challenge of doing it well and always.

If the owner isn’t passionate and clear as he or she conveys the vision, others might not commit to the firm and its products and services. So, suppliers, customers, bankers might not give needed support. Mergers, acquisitions, expansions lack focus without a sharp vision. Without a decision process that recalls the vision, most mergers and acquisitions will fail. 

Vision of BUNS and PIES

I developed the acronym BUNS and PIES for good vision statements:

  • Broad: It must show what you crave to become—the future you are choosing to create. The general road map of where you hope to go.

  • Understood: Employees, clients, suppliers and others should understand it
  • Noteworthy: To have an impact, people should be able to recall it. Do you think Caterpillar’s workers will recall its vision easier than IKEA’s staff?
  • Short: You will remember the vision easier with a brief statement
  • Present: Although the vision addresses the future, write it in the present tense because the journey is happening now

  • Inspire: Why write a statement that doesn’t excite the employees to go for it? Does Oxfam, a large British charity, motivate you?
  • Everywhere: The firm should show it here and there: in meeting rooms, by the coffee machines, in the hallways
  • Simple: Keep it simple

How do the above entities’ vision statements fit the BUNS and PIES? In the 70s, firms’ vision statements focused on their competition. The message was short, simple, noteworthy and effective. We moved away from that approach. Today, most vision statements try to say too much. Caterpillar could reduce its statement to produce a more memorable message.

© 2019 Michel A Bell

SEE ALSO:

Doing the vision, mission and strategy

 

Michel A. Bell

Michel A. Bell is a former senior business executive, author of six books (including Business Simplified released in 2018), speaker, and adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary. Michel is a Fellow of the Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), holds a Masters of Science in management degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Doctor of Business Administration honoris causa from Briercrest College and Seminary. He is founder and president of Managing God's Money.

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