As a leader, it’s critical for you to craft a compelling vision statement for your team. Here’s how you can do just that. This post is an excerpt from One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (you can get your copy here).
The only things more painful to read than most corporate mission statements are corporate vision statements. Many vision statements are written by committee. They start out direct, clear and compelling but as everyone involved has their turn at contributing their input those visions lose their luster. The direct parts of the vision get watered down as not to offend, exclude or intimidate people. Also, things are added to the vision because people want to ensure that their pet function or goal is included in the vision statement and this lengthens the document and makes it more confusing.
Eventually some vision statements come to look more like a bill that has moved through Congress, where everyone involved has tacked on their personal amendment, than they do a compelling articulation of what the organization will be in the future. Pythagoras said “Do not say a little in many words but a great deal in a few.” Leaders who write vision statements would do well to heed his advice. How is anyone supposed to get excited about a page full of blathering buzzwords describing a future full of meaningless phrases?
Before you go skipping forward with the excuse that you do not write vision statements at the corporate level, you must realize you are responsible for setting direction for your team. You as a leader must create a vision statement for your team when your team is large enough to warrant having one, so sit down and read. Any team that is responsible for a discrete organizational function should have a vision. It doesn’t matter if that team is as small as five people or as large as five thousand. You can write a powerful vision statement as long as all members of that team are focused on delivering the same goals in the same functional area.
Whatever your situation or your title happens to be, the simple fact remains – you need to articulate a vision for the future state of your organization. We usually leave this up to the C-suite but writing a vision statement at any level is a powerful exercise. Your people want to be excited to come to work. They want to be part of something bigger than they are. If you can paint a compelling future picture for them, they will be more excited to follow you to that destination. If you do not paint that picture, they are likely following you out of laziness or just morbid curiosity to see what is going to happen. The earlier in your career you learn how to create vision statements the more successful you will be at writing them as your responsibilities expand.
Writing a vision statement requires a great deal of thought and an ability to step outside of your daily grind and into a time beyond the foreseeable future. When you write it you need to make it concise and it must clearly explain how your organization creates value. This value creation component is easier to articulate than you might think. Ask yourself “what will the business outcomes and results be if I achieve this component of my vision?” Your vision will be comprised of several key phrases and you should be able to link each phrase to a desired business outcome.
I once worked with the president of a division who had responsibility for the company’s products across all of Europe. The challenge Olaf faced was his division sold globally-recognized branded products but his teams were organized by country. There were large inefficiencies and many redundancies that he wanted to eliminate but he faced substantial resistance from the country-based teams. Their resistance centered upon the idea that every country in Europe was a different market and serving those different customers required the organization to have country-based capabilities. Getting his country-based teams to adopt the global brand strategies was a key to successful growth for his division.
Olaf articulated his vision for his division simply and crisply when he said “Global brands meeting local needs.” He sent a strong message that the global brands came first but that he still saw country-based capabilities as a key to success. Once his teams recognized he was shifting the emphasis to the global brands but that he was not dismantling the entire country-based infrastructure, they were able to direct their energies toward the shift he desired. Over time, the global brand strategies helped him drive growth in many European countries and his division’s financial performance improved on a regular basis. His clarity of vision helped him break through organizational resistance and move the division to a better future.
To create your vision, look five years into the future and ask yourself what your organization should look like. Using a five-year planning window will generally help you balance between being achievable but not too ambiguous. This is because it is a short enough time frame for you and your team to have a measurable impact and feel like you have made progress, but it is far enough in the future that you can be aspirational in how you describe that vision without protests of “we’ll never achieve that goal in that short an amount of time!” Conversely, visions set beyond five years into the future can lead your team to feel like the world will change so much over that period that the vision will be neither achievable nor relevant.
Below I have provided some thought starters to assist you with tackling this big question. Do your best to answer as many of them as you can even if at first glance the question does not apply.
– How big will your organization be? How will you define its scope?
– What new skills will your team members have?
– What new capabilities will you build over this time period?
– How will the way you work with other groups change?
– What should your customers, both internal and external, expect from you?
– What will set your team apart and distinguish it when it is compared to other teams?
– What is your future vision for your team?
– Will they be excited by it?
– What aspects of it will they find inspiring?
Once you have drafted a preliminary set of answers to these questions look at all the answers as pieces of a bigger puzzle. Synthesize the most powerful elements into the simplest statement you can. Write down the statement that encapsulates what your team is all about. That is your first rough draft of a vision. As you evaluate the resulting vision ask yourself:
– Is my vision clear on how my organization creates value?
– Is the vision ambitious but realistically possible?
– Is the vision worth pursuing and does it win people’s commitment?
– Does the vision explain how we differentiate ourselves from competitors?
– Is the vision concise and does it consist of only a few critical words?
How does the first draft of your vision stack up against these questions? If you are not happy with your vision relative to these questions, continue to revise it until you are.
– If you want to create your own vision, grab a copy of my book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership or download the audiobook version at Audible.com. Go to chapter 11 in the book for more details and examples of how to craft that compelling vision.
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