Vision statements get a bad rap for a couple of reasons. First, they’re ill-defined by people who confuse vision with a strategy. Second, they’re written to the same level of detail as a construction team's blueprint for a new house. Would you remember every detail? Of course not (and if you would then I want to know your powers).
Contrary to the "uselessness" of a vision statement reported by some, they do serve a purpose: to identify a company’s future optimal state. If you don't know what "right" looks like, then nothing is wrong. To minimize confusion, here are eight ways vision statements add value:
1. A vision statement offers guidance.
Without a clear depiction of the direction in which you’re heading, any direction will suffice -- and that’s not ideal. Vision statements articulate what the company aspires to be at some point in the future.
2. Vision statements set decision-making boundaries.
Just look at Southwest’s vision of being the cheapest airline. Every decision that employees make, such as choosing between snacks and refreshments, was governed by the company’s overall vision. If one choice was more expensive than the other, guess which one they went with?
3. Vision statements serve as behavioral boundaries.
While vision and values are different, vision statements may include the values a company holds dear which, in turn, outline ethical -- and subsequently, unethical -- behavior. Here’s an easy way to distinguish between the two: a vision is where you want to end up tomorrow. Values are the beliefs and practices you hold dear today that will propel you toward tomorrow.
4. Vision statements instill emotion.
When done correctly, vision statements speak to emotion, and emotion drives behavior. Vision statements remind us why we chose our place of work and give us reason to perpetually pursue the purpose for which the company stands.
5. Vision statements spur growth.
Just as stretch goals compel us to, well, stretch ourselves, a compelling vision acts as a call to action for individual and organizational growth. The best way to grow is to pursue something you’re not quite certain of achieving.
6. Vision statements keep curiosity spurning.
In my book, Navigating Chaos: How to Find Certainty in Uncertain Situations, I suggest that complacency precedes catastrophe and that curiosity is the antidote to becoming complacent. Vision statements are one way to keep the mental hamster wheels spinning because achieving a vision isn’t necessary the intent, but learning along the way is.
7. Vision statements allow difficult conversations.
When an employee’s behavior is outside the bubble of acceptable culture norms you can easily refer to the vision and ask, “how does your behavior support our vision?” This way, the conversation remains in the scope of the company’s interest rather than cross the boundaries of personal judgment or ego.
8. Vision statements enable leadership.
A vision reminds current and aspiring leaders to fulfill their leadership responsibilities by adhering to the strategies set in place to pursue that vision. Without a vision, it’s easy to get off track (or never get on in the first place).
There are many online sources that can help you build a vision statement, and the process of doing so is invaluable. If you have another reason why vision statements are important, please share it in the comments section below.