VISION STATEMENTS: BIG DREAMS, SMALL WORDS

In recent weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a couple incredible groups of managers to craft vision statements for their organizations.

Here are a few of the main things I've taken away from these sessions.

First, creating a shared vision statement is not easy. When anything is possible and the sky’s the limit, it can be hard to nail down one, single, perfect sentence, especially when we want to keep it under 15 words, as the experts tell us to do.

Second, creating a shared vision statement is fun! Coming together as a group of leaders to answer the question “what is possible?” is thrilling, exhilarating, and inspiring.

Paging back through my notes from these sessions, here are a few tips for creating a powerful vision statement for your organization, your team, or your life (yes – a life vision statement - give it a try!).

Dream Big.

Done well, a vision statement inspires us, gets us out of bed in the morning, and gives us something to believe in.  

It represents our reason for being as an organization or in the world…what we believe in, our “why” for doing the work we do, and the thing that on a good day gets us fist pumping and jumping up and down with excitement.

A vision statement captures our dream for how we will change the world and improve the future, whether through cleaner water, fewer hungry people, less disease, or better customer service.

Vision statements are not the time to be humble or modest. They are our chance to be bold, to dream big, and to imagine what is really possible for our organization and for the future.

Need inspiration? Here are some of my favorites from organizations that dared to dream big.

Oxfam – A world without poverty

Feeding America – A hunger-free America

Human Rights Campaign – Equality for Everyone

Habitat for Humanity – A world where everyone has a decent place to live

Teach for America – One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

Zappos –

One day, 30% of all retail transactions in the US will be online.

People will buy from the company with the best service and the best selection.

Zappos.com will be that online store.

Let Go of the Lingo.

We have a lot of ideas about how we want to do things – we want to foster collaboration, commitment, and chemistry within our teams. We want to empower, inspire, and innovate. And we want to our teams to be multifunctional, multidisciplinary, and multicultural….just to name a few.

Although these are all noble intentions, trying to cram more than one of these babies into a vision statement creates a bit of a tongue twister.

Ditch the buzz words. Give your group permission to be picky and to boil all of these great intentions down into a couple key concepts. Consider short, impactful words that pack a punch and create a powerful picture of what the world could be. Consider words that are fun, words that pop, and words that have….well, fewer syllables.

Larry Page, the CEO and co-founder of Google, once described his vision for the perfect search engine as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” Free of fluff and complicated language, Larry creates a vision that is digestible, powerful, and clear.

Forget About the How.

We have an endless assortment of tools to use to helps us get to where we want to go. We have strategic plans, project plans, quarterly reviews, weekly deliverables, and daily task lists. As a society, we’ve created a whole new language full of phrases like trail blazing, executing, over promising, delivering on time, synergizing, maximizing, and meeting expectations

With all this focus on the “how,” we can use our vision statements as an opportunity to focus on the “why.” Without a clear definition of where we are headed and why, none of the tactics to get there matter much.

A clearly defined vision statement is strong enough to weather changing industries, new technologies, and unexpected challenges. The vision statement remains a point of focus, a north star, a destination, and a source of inspiration – even if along the way we find ourselves drastically shifting the way that we get there.

Come Back to Values.

A powerful vision statement is based on what is most important to you and your organization. It’s something that represents who you are and what you believe in.

To create a shared vision statement, consider starting with questions such as “what is important to you?” and “what do you love about this work?” to begin to understand what is most important.

Have Fun.

Creating a vision statement provides an opportunity to step out of the day-to-day details and reflect on what is most important overall as an organization.

This is an opportunity to reflect on what inspires us, who we are, and what is possible. This process can be an incredible exercise to understand the shared values of the group, to reenergize teams, and to come together to remind ourselves why we are doing this work in the first place.