What makes a vision work? Why do some visions galvanize people toward great achievement while others cause your eyes to glaze over?
What all great visions have in common is they provide an answer to these three questions:
1) Destination: Where are we going?
2) Purpose: Why do we exist? What greater good do we serve?
3) Values: What principles guide our decisions and actions on our journey?
When a vision address all three of these questions, a tremendous amount of energy is unleashed. There is a higher level of commitment because employees are able to see the relationship between the direction of their company and what they personally believe in and care deeply about. Everyone is clear about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how their work contributes.
Vision provides a picture of a highly desirable future state – a picture of the end-result; not the process for getting there.
It is more specific and tangible than just a vague sense or “positive thinking.” It’s something you can actually see in your imagination, like “a computer on every desk.”
When people share a common vision, they share the same picture of success. For example, the shared vision at CNN is for the network to be viewed in every country in the world in English as well as the language of that region. It will be easy for all members of CNN to identify how close they are to achieving their desired future state.
Having a picture of the end-result creates tremendous energy. Consider the vision of the Apollo Moon project: “to place a man on the moon by 1969.” This clear picture generated and focused an incredible amount of energy. When they began the project, the technology to achieve it was not even in place. However, they overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles and their performance was outstanding and spectacular.
However, a picture of the destination alone is not enough to guide people toward the future. They must also understand the purpose. Understanding “why?” helps you answer “what’s next?” once a milestone has been accomplished.
Why did the US want to place a man on the moon by 1969? Was it to win the space race? to begin the Star Wars initiative? or in the spirit of Star Trek, to boldly go where no one has gone before? Lacking a clear statement of purpose, (to answer “What next?”) NASA has shown neither clear direction nor outstanding performance since.
Define your purpose from the viewpoint of your customer.
Mary Parker Follett, a pioneering business consultant in the 1920’s, was asked to help a troubled window shade company. When asked to define their business they said, “We produce window shades.” She asked them to consider their business not from the viewpoint of the products and services they offer but from the viewpoint of their customers. Why do people buy window shades? –to control the amount of light coming through their windows and to create privacy. Considering their business from this viewpoint opened up new opportunities for producing and selling because there are many ways to control light and privacy.
CNN says they are in the business of providing hard-breaking news as it unfolds—not the entertainment business. They provide news on demand because the world has changed and people no longer have time or want to gather in front of the TV at 7 pm. CNN defines their purpose from the viewpoint of their customers’ needs. Understanding their purpose allows them to easily make important strategic decisions such as their quick investment in technology that equipped them to broadcast during the Gulf War.
However, a picture of the destination and a clear purpose are still not enough. Clear purpose explains what you do, but it does not give any guidelines for how how your purpose is to be accomplished. Clearly stating and living your values fuels the passion that keeps you focused in the face of obstacles, adversity, and change. Values tap into people’s feelings and evoke standards people care deeply about.
Values are deeply held beliefs of what is right or fundamentally important and provide guidelines for our choices and actions. They describe how we intend to operate, on a day-by-day basis, as we pursue our vision.
Because their values were a real guiding force, Johnson & Johnson leaders were able to quickly make the right decision during the famous Tylenol tampering incident in 1982.
ONE STATEMENT – A Vision That Works Includes All Three
Neither clear destination, purpose or values alone will provide ongoing guidance and inspiration. Vision statements that works include all three.
Henry Ford envisioned the common people driving around in automobiles. He saw access for everyone, not just the elite. The purpose of his company was to build and make available affordable transportation (automobiles). The underlying values were to create access for everyone, not just the rich. The destination – a multitude of cars on the road, driven by all kinds of people. As his vision became clear, the means to achieve it also became clear. His strategy, mass production, was born from his vision.
There is greater trust in organizations where people know they share the same purpose and values and desire the same end-result, and because of that, there is more room for differences, creativity and innovation.
Thanks, Jack. Nice to see you here!
Great read, and very helpful! Thanks, Jesse. I appreciate you taking the time to expand on this topic. Very well done.
Thanks, Micah. You inspired me to post this as I couldn’t figure out a short answer to your comment on my last post. My next post will build on this one and address your comment specifically.
This is sound advice. Many companies have vision statements that don’t incorporate these elements. A typical flaw is to simply aspire to be “world-class”. I would put any provisional vision statement up against the following tests. Does your vision statement really differeniate you from your competitors? Is it distinctive enough to be applied to your firm alone? Or, could it just as easily describe any company in your sector?
Invisible Laws Blog
Great point, Dan. To be “world class” provides no clarity on who you are or how to proceed. Another flaw I often see is when companies say “we’re in the customer service business.” Customer service may be a primary value, but once again, it doesn’t provide an identity. And as long as we’re on the subject, a third flaw are vision statements that aspire to “beat the competition” or “to be number one.” Visions are about being great. When you’re focused on beating the competition, you don’t have to be great, you only have to be one step ahead of them. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts, Dan, and opening up the topic further.
Like your point about identity. What is it that makes us, us and want to be a part of us. We’re a tribal species.
Good point about being tribal. Identity is important at all levels: personal identity – who are you? team identity – who are we as a team? and organizational identity – who are we as an organization? Why do I/we exist? What purpose do I/we serve? Thanks for your insights, Steve.
Wow, I guess I better say tuned!! Thanks for really taking an interest and working to create a community here. I think you are excelling at creating great content, but also developing an active community around your blog. Good work!
Thanks for your feedback, Micah. I’m motivated to respond when someone is genuinely interested. And I’m even happier when my ideas provoke others’ thinking and gets them talking with each other. We all learn that way.
Vision statements should always provide more answers than questions. Well written article, Jesse.
Thank you, Roy, for your kind words about my post. I love your comment on vision statements, will quote you on that.
Great post. Is there a chance you wright similar advice about mission statement?
I believe that a mission statement is a statement of PURPOSE and therefore, is best incorporated into the vision statement. I know some companies have 3 separate statements – purpose (or mission), values and destination (which they call vision), but my opinion is it’s too many statements to expect people to juggle and these three elements aren’t really so distinct. A good vision statement incorporates all three.
Thanks for a great article. As a strategy consultant I frequently come across organisations whose vision statements do not include these elements, or pass the tests I have documented at http://strategiccoffee.chriscfox.com/search/label/vision%20statements
This is invariably a clear indication that the organisation does not have a clear and well thought out strategy for success.
Hi Chris. Thanks for your comments. I enjoyed your post. Thanks for sharing the link.
Okay Jesse, now you have me wondering….what did the window shade company change their vision to?
Hi Jake, Great question! I don’t know if they had a vision since I’m not aware of their values or destination (picture of the future). But considering their PURPOSE from the viewpoint of their customer certainly did change their IDENTITY, and hence their offerings of products and services.
Once they realized what business they were really in, they opened their thinking to consider creative ways to control light.
They offered custom-made products using decorative fabrics and introduced custom-made Venetian blinds, which were gaining popularity in Paris. As desire for Venetian blinds increased in the United States, a method of mass production was developed and by the 1950’s they could be found in offices and homes everywhere.
Not only did the floundering window shade company save their company, they became front runners in the revolution of window treatments.
Leí el libro !A todo vapor!
Trabajo en la industria hotelera, en alimentos y bebidas y la visión del hotel es:
“Otorgar a nuestros huéspedes momentos mágicos siempre”
Hice que mis colaboradores memorizaran la visión, la misión y los valores de la empresa.
En este momento estoy con ellos elaborando su visión personal y seguidamente haremos la visión del restaurante en que laboramos.
Gracias por el libro y la motivación que tú y Ken provocaron en mí e involuntariamente en mis colaboradores.
Un fuerte abrazo y mi cariño para los dos.
Hola Raúl, me alegro de que nuestro libro es útil. Gracias por compartir su visión. Mis mejores deseos a medida que avanza! A Todo Vapor! en la toma de su visión una realidad.
Jesse many thanks for this great post. now I have the right understanding of building a vision that works.
please keep up, great job
Thanks Fahad, Glad it was helpful.
Jesse,you are simply a huge blessing to this generation and I celebrate.Your insight is phenomena.
You have just answered all my questions on Vision statement but I feel for a real Estate firm in Nigeria,it is imperative that both vision,mission and core values statement is highlighted cos the values can not be fully defined in the vision.
Also I would appreciate a guide on drawing a real estate firm’s purpose from the customer point of view since what we do mostly is consultancy.Thanks
Thank you for your kinds words. Your questions are valid and important. The best way I can support respond is to encourage you to read all the posts linked to purpose in my blog. The each clarity key points. The other option is to read my book Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision because it illustrates these concepts using real examples from real companies. It has been translated into 22 languages and should be available for download through amazon in Nigeria. Best wishes to you in in your own work.