How To Make A Useful Vision Statement

Let’s face it, most vision statements are not compelling. They are too vague, too wordy, and try to include too much to be useful. A great vision statement will inspire, both your employees and your audience. Here’s how to make a useful vision statement with only a few words. 

When I entered the workforce in the 1990s, vision statements were all the rage as the new strategic management tool. Creating vision, mission, and values statement was the prescription for ailing organizations and teams. (These days the answer is a new logo and website design… but I digress.) I spent countless hours in meetings envisioning and re-envisioning the organization and then our team’s vision.

The product of these creative processes was often another safe, sterile statement that included too much and said too little. As we used the new statements we found they didn’t provide hoped-for visionary inspiration, nor the mission-direction for the organization.

It’s important that you have a compelling statement that describes what you seek to accomplish, what you offer, or what people can expect as a result of engaging with your organization. I call this a vision statement. But call it what you like – mission, vision, tag-line – I don’t want to argue nuances of these words.

Coca-Cola’s Greatest Product Disaster

The date April 23, 1985 continues to ring loudly in the history of business disasters. That was the day that the 99-year-old Coca-Cola Company announced “New” Coke. Coca-Cola changed the name and the formula of Coke. They replaced cane sugar with a less expensive sweetener based on research showing that consumers preferred a slightly sweeter taste.

However, consumers choked on the changes. Tens of thousands people complained by phone and letter. People hoarded cases of “old” coke in their basements and drove across the country in search of the few remaining bottles.

Executives at Coca-Cola scrambled to recover and brought in a million-dollar advertising consultant to help them escape this debacle. The consultant asked the question, “What is Coca-Cola in one word?” Words were offered and batted about. “Classic” emerged as the word that best fit the Coca-Cola people wanted to buy and drink. Seventy-nine days later, Coca-Cola announced Coca-Cola Classic.

Vision Statements With Fewer Words Are Better

What I learned from the Coca-Cola story is the power of one word – “classic” – to capture the essence of what people expected from Coke.

Most vision statements suffer from too many words. This happens because we include the wrong things. Everyone, it seems, finds it difficult to not include in their vision statement everything they do, sell, or could provide someday in the future.

The most useful vision statements are laser-focused on your primary customer and their desired result.

Let’s take look at a few examples of useful vision statements from the nonprofit sector.

SightLife: Eliminating cornea blindness.
TED: Spreading Ideas.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Helping all people lead healthy, productive lives.
International Justice Mission: Protecting the poor from violence.

3 Questions To Make A Useful Vision Statement

  1. What’s your “what” not your “how”? A useful vision statement will focus on the desired outcome – the result – and not the process of achieving it. If your vision statement has how-to in it, that’s a strategy. Strategies will shift with time, the vision will remain largely the same. Focus on results. The TED example seems to defy this point because, “spreading ideas” is the organization’s vision and strategy. Still, I want to know what comes after it. Spreading ideas, in order that… what?
  2. What’s the one thing you must measure to know if you’re successful? Every organization has many things they measure to monitor their progress. A useful vision statement will focus on the one thing. For SightLife in Seattle, that key measurement is how many cornea transplants were successfully completed? Everything else they measure supports this one thing. What’s your one thing?
  3. What’s your one word vision statement? What is the one word that describes what you seek to accomplish, what you offer, or what people can expect as a result of engaging with your organization? From the 4 examples above it is: sight, ideas, health, and safety.

What’s mine, you ask? Good question! To be honest, it’s a lot easier to teach about short vision statements than it is to create and live by one. Here’s mine:

One word: Impact.
Short phrase: Multiplying Your Impact.

The leaders I work with are not just trying to make money, they want to make an impact in the world. They want to see people grow and change, become more productive, develop new leaders, and live more just, healthy, and contented lives. Much of my audience, hears their own specific ambitions in the word “impact.”

My audience are leaders who want to multiply their impact. They don’t want their impact limited to only when they personally can do something. The need is too great. They want their impact to spread – through more people and with greater effect.

Now it’s your turn. Go back to the 3 questions above and create your own short vision statement.

Question: Share your short vision statement. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    4 thoughts on “How To Make A Useful Vision Statement

      • Cool, Mark! For someone who feels stuck, unstuck is liberating. One thought about the line that followed: I help leaders escape their status quo. Using “their” rather than “the” personalizes it to their calling, hang-up, etc.