"The most pathetic person in the world is one that can see but has no vision." Helen Keller
Vision, mission, purpose, values…all terms that represent some sort of organizational characteristic and all terms with which leadership teams consistently struggle. It’s unfortunate really because, in most cases, the struggle comes down to semantics. “Is our current statement a vision or is it a mission?” “Do these values statements really represent the way we differentiate ourselves in the marketplace?” “Can we stop talking about the bs-stuff and get to business?”
If you have been in any of these conversations, take heart at least in the fact that you are not alone. In my opinion, business schools, consultants and authors have done a disservice to leaders by trying to “brand” a process of definition that is, at its core, quite simple. I also suspect that some of you reading this will disagree with where I’m going in the conversation if for no other reason than it doesn’t represent what you learned as a definition. That’s o.k. too if what you currently have makes sense to you and is a clear actionable tool for your leadership. If not, at least keep an open mind.
Vision: The easiest way for me to think about vision is to go all the way back to bbc (before Boston
Consulting). In Proverbs 29:18, King Solomon says, “Where there is no vision, people perish.” Whether the old testament is a primary source for your leadership training or not, this statement says a lot about a vision. A vision is not a statement. A vision is a dream of where you want to go. The statement comes later. Without a dream, it is difficult to get up in the morning and commit the energy and effort necessary to be successful.
Case in point: Amazon’s vision is to be a place where people can come to find anything they want to buy online. If you work for Amazon, you know that the vision of your company is not in being the world’s largest bookstore. Nor is the vision to have the greatest Return on Income of any online seller. If you look at Amazon’s recent moves into various businesses for example, it makes sense given where they want to go. If you believe that shoes are something people want to buy online, and your vision is to provide “anything” that people want to buy online, then buying a shoe company might make sense.
I just listened this week to a group of students arguing over whether the vision should be attainable or not. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard the same debate in leadership retreats and boardrooms. In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter. At some point the vision has to have a sense of reality in that it relates to what the organization (or individual) actually does. But it also has to have a sense of excitement. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could actually say we have achieved this?”
Why would you not want a vision that you might possibly attain? You know what you do if you achieve your vision? You create another vision!!! The importance of vision is to put a point out in the future that you and your people can truly imagine. If all things were to work perfectly, if all problems were to be solved, and if we had a little bit of luck as well, we could attain it.
A vision is like magnetic north. It doesn’t actually move you anywhere, but it provides a point of orientation. That is why visions are not only corporate but also individual. You should have a vision for your organization, for your family, and for yourself. There are no limits to your vision because…well, it’s your vision. It’s where you want to be.
Don’t get hung up on whether this is a three-year vision, a five-year vision or a thirty-year vision. Who really cares? If it is exciting and if it focuses the effort of you and your people, go with it. I worked with a company one time that was in dire straits and nearing bankruptcy. This was in 2003 I think and there vision was, “Survival to 2004.” While this was meant to be something of a joke, it was also a compelling vision for a group of people who could not see how they were going to make it through the year. It was at the level of a “dream” for them to manage the challenges they had to the point of making the business work. They did, and they turned around a $500 million loss in 2 years as opposed to the projected 5 years that was assumed by heaquarters.
Vision is a dream that provides direction for action. You don’t have to measure the number of words in your vision statement, just measure the number of actions it inspires.