Vision Statements: Don’t Make These Mistakes

Your company’s strategy can be encapsulated in its vision, mission, purpose, and values. Could there be anything more important than the ability to clearly communicate to your clients, your staff, your suppliers and your future employees the answers to questions about why you exist, where you are going, and how you conduct yourself? Unfortunately, most leaders treat the mission, vision, and values as checklist items on a “to do” list, rather than important elements that will guide the company’s strategy for years to come. Leaders instead spend a couple of hours wordsmithing an agreed-upon list with a committee – and voila! Marketing taglines and snappy website copy as far as the eye can see. Ugh. I’m so glad you aren’t like that.

Beyond consultant speak, what exactly are mission, vision, purpose, and values statements? The mission is what your company does and how it is differentiated from your competitors today, the vision is a picture of the company’s future state, the purpose is why your company exists, and the values are how you all conduct yourselves on the path to that vision.

What are the big mistakes that get made? The first two have to do with the creation of the statements. The last has to do with what happens when the company’s strategic direction changes.

1. Don’t Sound Like Everyone Else.

Your mission, vision, purpose, and values should be uniquely yours – they should describe your company so that it is unmistakable that they refer to your firm. Let’s use a car company as an example. Can you guess which brand of car has this mission? “The ___ brand wins hearts and turns heads. It is refreshingly different: extroverted, spontaneous and in every respect something out of the ordinary.”

Imagine working at this car dealership – the mission would guide how you act with customers (extroverted, spontaneous, out of the ordinary). Try applying this mission to some different car brands, like Cadillac, Hummer, or Prius – nope. Doesn’t fit. All are unique cars, but this mission really captures what makes a Mini special.

Too often, a company gets caught wordsmithing a mission statement by committee. They’ll end up with something like: “Our company’s mission is to provide the utmost client satisfaction in our industry while being an employer of choice.” The words integrity and innovation may also get sprinkled in. It’s not that this is a bad mission, but the statement is vague and difficult to benchmark against. If your company’s mission could be applied to any of your competitors just as easily, it’s back to the drawing board.

2. Don’t Create The Statements Alone.

We reject the idea of wordsmithing by committee. That said, a leader cannot create effective mission, vision, purpose, and values statements in isolation. The key people in the organization are the ones that will carry the strategy forth internally and externally, so they must be included in the process. But it doesn’t stop there.

If your business is a going concern, the next step is to test the statements with other, external stakeholders. Suppliers, customers, trusted advisors – all of this feedback is valuable to ascertain if your strategy is something they can a) buy into and b) get excited about. If they can’t, first revisit your strategy and then revisit your statements.

3. Never Update Just One.

At Bellrock, we don’t work with start up companies. Often, our clients have already got their statements, but at some point may decide to pivot their strategic direction. Sometimes the pivot is so great, their vision no longer applies. For example, a company that had a vision of dominating the Canadian market may eventually broaden that vision globally. In this case, it is important to revise not just the vision statement (describing the future state) but also the mission (what you do), and the values (how we behave). For example, cultural sensitivity might become job #1 in the values department.

If you are a die-hard do-it-yourselfer, Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage is an excellent book on how to develop your company’s strategy. Or you could always call us!

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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