20/20 vision – a term we are familiar with. It’s the perfect vision score where you can see everything clearly, horizontally and vertically, near and far. We lose it as we get older and need to take corrective measures to fix the problem. The same is true with an organization’s strategic vision.
Most strategic vision statements are given voice in the boundless energy and youthful years of an organization’s genesis and are a strong affirmation and reflection of the founder’s core values and principles. In my executive coaching of CEOs, entrepreneurs and other leaders, I find that without this component firmly in place and understood, there will be difficulties in achieving long-term sustainable results for both individuals and the organization.
A strategic re-visioning process is in order. A relevant, formulated and engaging strategic vision statement will be the result. Without it, strong organizational alignment is diminished. The organization will not be postured to optimally compete. The company is without a plumb line. It is out of balance.
So – what is a strategic vision statement? It is the formulated conviction of what has been achieved, what you are known for and how you are now perceived. It is not about prediction but about preference. It is the result of hard work over a given period of time (e.g. 5 years). You are looking back at a reference point (e.g. first year) and are vividly describing what has been achieved and changed at the end of 5 years. For example:
“We are known as the employer of first choice in our industry, as measured by high employee retention and profitability.”
“We are recognized in our community as a helper and supporter of safe streets and clean neighborhoods.”
We have demonstrated that our products and services have outperformed our competitors in quality satisfaction and customer acquisition.”
“The profitability of our company is significantly higher than that of our competitors.”
“Our geographic expansion in distribution centers is over 100 with an employee base of 3,000.”
“Our new corporate headquarters is green-certified and eco-friendly, creating a spacious environment in which to connect, find solitude and instill pride.”
“Our core values have now ensured that our competitive advantage will be difficult to replicate by our competitors.”
A strategic vision statement helps create coherency and diminish fears of not knowing, not being involved in or having little influence over the future among members of your organization.
The words of Joel Arthur Baker are a reminder:
Power of Vision
Vision without action is
Merely a dream;
Action without vision
Just passes time;
Vision with action can
Change the world.
I recall working with a client whose ideas and visions encompassed an enormous arc of goals and had all the trendy catch phrases – her guiding philosophy went from sustainable livelihood and protecting the environment to saving the world! When I asked her about what was really important to her personally it took some time to get to an articulated set of core values that could support her vision. Ultimately she started and then grew that business to encompass one of the largest cooperative farming groups in her country and was a key part of successfully establishing the region as a designated conservation area. It started with her core values and her vision statement. Taking the time to know your core values will translate into a comprehensive and relatable organization strategic vision statement. Understand that values guide our direction while vision determines our destination.
Burt Nanus, a well-known expert on the subject, describes a strategic vision as a realistic, credible, attractive future for an organization.
As stated by Nanus, a strategic vision statement includes a guiding philosophy which is “a system of fundamental motivating assumptions, principles, values and tenets.” The guiding philosophy stems from the organization’s core beliefs and values and its purpose – why the organization exists, what needs it fills. A shared sense of purpose is the glue that binds people together in common cause, often linking each individual’s goals with the organization’s goals.
As you develop your organization’s strategic vision statement, you need to include these essentials:
It should be leader-initiated.
It must be shared and supported by all.
It needs to be comprehensive and detailed – how, when, why, what – and everyone must see their part.
It is positive and inspiring: It must have reach, stretch skills, be worth the effort and be willing to err on the side of greatness.
PROPERTIES OF A GOOD STRATEGIC VISION STATEMENT
A mental model of a future state. It involves thinking about the future, and modeling possible future states. A strategic vision doesn’t exist only in the present, and it may or may not be reached in the future.
Idealistic. It has to be realistic enough so that people believe it is achievable, but idealistic enough so that it cannot be achieved without stretching.
Appropriate for the organization and for the times. A strategic vision must be consistent with the organization’s values and culture, and its place in its environment. It must also be realistic.
Sets standards of excellence and reflects high ideals.
Clarifies purpose and direction. In defining that “realistic, credible, attractive future for an organization,” a strategic vision statement provides the rationale for both the mission and the goals the organization should pursue.
Inspires enthusiasm and encourages commitment. An inspiring strategic vision can help people in an organization get excited about what they’re doing, and increase their commitment to the organization.
Well-articulated and easily understood. In order to motivate individuals, and clearly point toward the future, a strategic vision must be articulated so that people understand it.
Reflects the uniqueness of the organization, its distinctive competence, what it stands for, and what it is able to achieve. This is where the leaders of an organization need to ask themselves, “What is the one thing we do better than anyone else? What is it that sets us apart from others in our area of business?” The key is finding what it is that your organization does best. Focus your strategic vision there.
Ambitious. It must not be commonplace. It must be truly extraordinary. A good strategic vision pushes the organization to a higher standard of excellence, challenging its members to achieve a level of performance they haven’t achieved before. Inspiring, motivating, compelling strategic visions are not about maintaining the status quo.
Now that the 5-year strategic vision statement has been formulated, assess your end product with the following questions framed by Collins and Porras. You may revise and modify your iteration after sharing it with employees and other critical stakeholders for their feedback and input.
5-YEAR STRATEGIC VISION ASSESSMENT QUESTIONS
- Does your strategic vision statement provide a powerful picture of what your business should look like 3 to 5 years from now?
- Is your strategic vision statement a picture of your company’s future?
- Does your strategic vision statement represent a dream that is beyond what you think is possible?
- Does it represent the mountaintop of where the company is headed?
- Does your strategic vision statement clarify the direction in which your organization needs to move?
- Does it clarify the customer focus your company should have?
- Does it clarify the market position your company should try to occupy?
- Does it clarify the business activities your company is to pursue?
- Does it clarify the capabilities your company plans to develop?
- Does your strategic vision statement give employees a larger sense of purpose?
- Is your strategic vision statement worded in such a way that your employees see themselves as “building a cathedral” rather than “laying stones”?
- Is your strategic vision statement worded in engaging language that inspires and engages people?
- Does it create a vivid image in people’s heads that provokes emotion and excitement?
- Does it create enthusiasm and pose a challenge that inspires and engages people in the company?
Capitalizes on Unique Competencies
- Does your strategic vision statement build on your company’s core competencies?
- Does it build on your company history, customer base, strengths, and unique capabilities, resources and assets?
We know what 20/20 vision is, and now we also know what a strategic vision statement is. Just like regular visits to your eye doctor help to maintain 20/20 vision and identify problems resulting in corrective measures, so too does the re-visioning process. Being aware of the current state of the organization and its operating environment and having a clearly articulated strategic vision statement will help your organization stay healthy, aligned and strong.