Are your employees working toward a shared vision of the future? If so, what is it?
If you can’t answer these questions, your organization is missing a critical foundational element: a vision statement. There’s a compelling case to be made that organizations that adopt a future vision—a shared goal or objective that extends beyond financial performance—outperform their competitors. If you haven’t already defined your own company’s vision, you could be hampering forward progress, or even worse, simply moving in circles.
But it’s never too late to develop a vision statement, and we’re here to help you get started. Below, we’ve outlined six steps for how to write a vision statement—and, more importantly, what to do with your vision statement once it’s complete.
Craft and carry out your unique vision and strategy with the help of our Strategy Execution Toolkit.
Table of Contents
- How do you write a vision statement? The 4-Step Process
- Vision Statement Examples
- Measure Progress Toward Your Vision
What is a vision statement (& why is it important)?
Not to be confused with a mission statement—which describes what your company does and how it is different from other organizations in your competitive space—a vision statement clarifies the direction in which your organization is headed by stating the outcomes you expect to achieve in the near future. Essentially, a vision statement explains how your company plans to live out its mission statement. The mission is timeless, but the vision is time-bound and a bit more tangible. You’ll see the distinction in the vision statement examples later in this guide.
It is crucial for every organization, regardless of size or industry, to craft a vision statement. Why? Most importantly, because it gives employees a sense of purpose. One of the largest drivers of employee satisfaction is doing meaningful work; with a clear vision statement, employees can rally behind a shared goal that drives them every day. A well-written vision statement should excite and motivate your employees about your organization and the progress you’ll all make together in the near future.
Your vision statement should also inform your organizational strategy. It can be a very useful guide for setting goals and objectives and determining the projects you choose to engage in. It can also serve as a guidepost for decision-making at all levels, from the executive board to individual employees. Without a clear vision, decisions may not always align with the company’s higher purpose.
Finally, a vision statement can help unify your organization during times of adversity and hardship. Every organization encounters occasional periods of difficulty, and it is during these times that individuals are most likely to lose sight of that shared purpose. Having a clear and meaningful vision will keep your employees striving forward despite challenges.
How do you write a vision statement? The 4-Step Process
Vision statements aren’t the brainchild of a single individual; an inclusive writing process is more likely to produce a statement that garners support from everyone. Gather a small team of individuals who exemplify your organization’s values and standards and also represent a cross-section of experience and expertise. Then, follow the below steps to articulate your vision in a clear, concise way.
1. Project five to ten years into the future.
Imagine a future world in which your business is competing well in or dominating the market. What does that world look like? Can you get there? For example, if you want to double your company’s profit in five years, what would that entail? Would you be in a different geographic area? Would you sell different products or services? Would you become a strategic partner with your clients rather than a third party vendor? This “world” is where your vision statement should live.
To formulate these projections, it may be helpful to conduct a gap analysis. A gap analysis is a way to compare current performance to desired performance—essentially allowing you to visualize the difference between reality and target. The end result gives you a better understanding of where your organization is struggling—and where it has room to grow. (If you’d like some direction on how to do that, check out this post!)
2. Determine your purpose and position as an organization.
To write a vision statement, you should consider your company’s objective, advantage, and scope (OAS). By answering the following questions, you can come up with an OAS statement, which will help you better articulate your organization’s strategy:
- Objective: “Why does our organization exist?”
- Advantage: “How do we do things differently, better, or more efficiently?”
- Scope: “What should or shouldn’t we do to achieve our objective?”
The social services provider, Catholic Charities of Boston, clarified its uniqueness as an organization by defining the following:
- Objective: to build a just and compassionate society
- Advantage: to provide a truly integrated set of solutions, from helping a refugee family find housing, to job training, to emergency food and resources, and so on
- Scope: limited to the “neediest poor”
The resulting OAS statement is: "We are building a just and compassionate society by providing an integrated set of solutions to the neediest poor."
3. Describe what success looks like in your organization.
To help formulate your statement, consider how you might complete this sentence: We are successful if we are…. The resulting sentiment should be clear and succinct, and, if you’re diving deep enough, reveal what sets you apart from the competition. The end result should get everyone on the team excited and working toward a common definition of success.
4. Write your vision statement.
The steps above should reveal ideas and goals that are important to your organization; use that information to craft your vision statement. Consider the following suggestions as you write:
- Nonprofits generally tend to describe an ideal world, whereas for-profit organizations describe their place in an ideal world. For example, the nonprofit organization Sierra Club has a vision of “clean energy, air, and water for all.” The for-profit business Under Armour wants “to inspire you with performance solutions you never knew you needed and can’t imagine living without.”
- Consider referencing your competitors or creating an analogy. If you’re a smaller organization building into a new niche, referencing an organization that your employees quickly recognize helps them create an immediate picture of your vision. Hypothetical vision statement examples that use this tactic would be: “Our vision is to be the Facebook of networking athletes” or “We will grow faster than X brand.” (X being the number-one brand in your industry.)
- Consider including a measurable goal, such as “We will be number one in the industries where we compete” or “We want to reach $X in sales by 20XX.”
Vision Statement Examples
Let’s take a look at two organizations that have clear vision statements guiding their organizations, as well as what makes these vision statements powerful.
Teach for America is a nonprofit whose mission is to “enlist, develop, and mobilize'' outstanding leaders to help shape the future of education. Its vision statement is:
To achieve the reality that, one day, all children in our nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
Elon Musk’s Tesla is a for-profit electric vehicle company whose vision statement is:
To accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.
Certain characteristics stand out in these vision statements. First, they are both concise. Conciseness may not seem that important, but being able to express your vision meaningfully in a few words makes a more memorable statement—and one that’s easier to understand.
Next, both vision statements clearly paint a picture of how the world would be different if the organizations were to achieve their vision and the goals they have set. Their points of view are not generic but rather unique to the organizations themselves.
Last, both vision statements are feasible yet ambitious. It’s crucial to strike that balance—employees should be inspired to work toward meaningful change, but they should also believe the goal(s) can be reached. In contrast, a mundane vision statement won’t generate the level of enthusiasm you need to reach your ideal outcome.
How To Use & Communicate Your Vision
Your employees are the primary audience for your vision statement. If they don’t know about the vision statement—or it doesn’t resonate with them—it won’t serve any purpose. So, the next step after creating a vision statement is to share it.
There’s no right way to communicate your vision, but these tips will help ensure everyone gets the message, and it is well understood:
- Communicate your vision in memorable ways. The use of visuals, which are more engaging than text, can be helpful. Ask a graphic designer to stylize it using typography and images so it is visually appealing.
- Share your vision repeatedly via multiple channels. Post the vision on your website; include it in corporate email signoffs; print it on company swag, and display it on office signage. Keep the message circulating consistently in any creative ways you can think of.
- Encourage feedback about your vision. It can be helpful to understand how employees are receiving the vision. Ask for and collect their thoughts and questions, and remain open to altering the statement. This openness helps the buy-in and alignment process. (Plus, the more you get people talking about it, the more likely they are to remember it!)
- Ensure you and your employees always act in accordance with your vision. The vision becomes meaningless if it is neglected or disregarded. It is important to ensure every future action is consistent with the vision, and, if inconsistencies arise, they are addressed.
Measure Progress Toward Your Vision
The bright future you’ve envisioned should be attainable. So once you create the vision, you’ll need to take specific actions to make it come to fruition.
Those actions are defined as part of your strategy, which essentially converts your vision statement into measurable indicators. To help with achieving key aspects of your vision, implement a strategic framework like the Balanced Scorecard and track your progress using ClearPoint. Your framework should hold and track your goals and break them down into manageable pieces with initiatives and action items. (Executing your strategy is a whole other ball of wax, which you can read about more here.)
The goal isn’t to craft a vision that’s so unattainable you’ll never reach it. So, when you do finally achieve your vision, set a new one! Look into the future once more and decide where it is you hope to head next—and work toward it.
If you need some assistance making your vision statement actionable, download our free Strategy Execution Toolkit. This 44-page guide will help you take disjointed goals and set them into motion.
What is the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement?
A mission statement quite literally states your organization’s mission. What purpose are you trying to accomplish? What problem will your business solve? A vision statement, on the other hand, describes how you’re going to make your mission happen. It describes the vision of your organization – how you’ll grow and get to the perfect world where your mission is met.
Why is it important to have a vision statement?
A vision statement not only inspires your employees, it gives everyone in your organization a shared purpose. A vision statement is an effective tool to boost employee and customer engagement.
When should you write a vision statement?
We always say: sooner is better than later! A vision statement is usually created during the start-up of a company. We suggest you revisit and readjust your vision statement as needed.
What do I do after I write a vision statement?
Share it with your team! Get everyone excited. Then, use it to inspire your strategic plan.
What should I include in a vision statement?
What you include in your vision statement depends on your industry. Include specific numbers, a timeline, and language to excite your employees. Your vision statement can range from “Becoming the Facebook for Strategy Nerds” or “Sell $XM by 2025”.