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How to write a vision statement

Over time there will be 100s, 1000s of decisons being made across the business, from the tiny to the big and strategic. An inspiring vision statement is essential for effective collaboration and decision making.

An inspiring vision statement is essential for the long-term growth of a company.

Is it going to help you sell more today? Perhaps not, but over time there will be 100s, 1000s, perhaps millions of decisions being made across the business, from the tiny to the big and strategic. So, what’s going to hold all that together?

People making individual decisions, in teams, at different times and perhaps in different locations? Many of these decisions will be about the here and now, making the right decision at this very moment. But if all our decisions are short-term and uncoordinated like this, they’ll be no long-term future.

The vision statement provides the essential and invisible glue between the here and now and the future for everybody in the business.

Adam Smith (1723-1790), known as the ‘The Father of Capitalism’, created the economic concept of “The Invisible Hand”, which describes the unintended benefits brought about by individuals acting in their self-interest. You can think of the vision statement as analogous to that but for companies, not markets, and for the collective good, not people’s self-interest. Interestingly, people’s self-interest can also be met when there is agreement and collaboration around a vision statement.

The vision statement helps to define your company’s identity and destination. It helps to define the soul of the company. Otherwise, in the words of Lewis Carroll (1832-1898): “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” And that could be a fairly directionless option.

How to write a vision statement

When you start writing a vision statement, consider how you want people to feel and how the world will be a better place when your company follows its vision. Think about your products and services, how are they improving people’s lives today and what will be the affect of that in the future.

So, it shouldn’t be too vague or esoteric. It should not be a tick-box exercise. If you’re writing a vision statement only because you don’t have one yet, then that’s the wrong reason. It should be written because you want to get staff on the same, motivated and inspiring page, engaged by something that’s bigger than any individual, so they come to work dreaming of making a difference, not thinking about their weekends or paying their mortgages.

The vision statement needs to define a better future world; one that your company can help make a reality.

If a vision statement already exists, then see how many staff actually know about it and can recite it. The shorter and more concise the better as it has to be readily understood, remembered and implemented.

Writing a vision statement doesn’t have to be a challenge; it can be a helpful exercise in defining why your business is trading and its future. It’s a great exercise in thinking about something other than money and profits. It can help encapsulate your core ideals and raison d'être. It will provide your business with a specific direction and destination with a clear focus and increased coherence for improved teamwork and collaboration.

In writing a vision statement consider what is unique or different about what you do, and make it as human as you can, so it connects with people’s need for a sense of purpose. It needs to inspire people to get them up on a frosty winter’s morning, with 10 feet of snow outside, and go to work.

Crafting a vision statement combines ideas, creativity and deep thought. It’s best to track back to why the founder/s created the business in the first place. The original vision may have changed, but it’s a good place to start nonetheless. What original opportunity did they identify? It may be that the directors aren’t the greatest wordsmiths, so using a creative copywriter may help to tease out the words in a more succinct and engaging way.

A vision statement can be produced as a video message to engage and communicate in a way that works better than framing it and putting it on an office wall or brochure.

Why write a vision statement?

The vision statement creates a ‘North Star’ that everybody can see and follow. So, when things get difficult and obstacles to progress appear, it will serve as an essential guidepost for updating the strategy, if that’s required, and for checking that the new or updated strategy adheres to the vision.

Everybody in the organisation can ask themselves if their current actions help or hinder the realisation of that vision, or how can an action be completed in a better way that brings that vision closer. From strategy planning to picking up the phone, all actions can be guided by an overarching vision that people connect with.

Many companies write a vision statement, but does anyone remember them, especially their own staff? There’s no point having a vision statement if it doesn’t become part of the culture and way of doing business.

A vision statement provides a real, ideally visceral destination for a company or person. Individuals can write their own visions statements too. It creates a mental picture that everybody can understand and be motivated by.

What makes a good vision statement?

If the vision statement isn’t motivating to you or anybody else, then it’s worth considering why that is and changing it – or the company you work for. It defines why the company exists, so it needs to be ambitious to motivate and inspire everybody.

It should create a solid mental image of what your company will do for your customers in the future. Furthermore, it can help provide guidance in defining the company’s values.

The vision statement has to be more than just words and a business planning exercise, it needs to be turned into action, behaviours and attitudes. The vision statement isn’t something to be done, dusted and forgotten about as part of a strategy session. It must become something that changes people’s minds, makes them reconsider and act congruently with it. In this respect, it will underpin the company culture. So, writing the vision statement is only 20% of the work, the rest is ensuring it’s made real and realised.

A vision statement needs to be idealistic, if it’s not moving humanity forward in some way, it’s probably not worth pursuing and eventually the energy will dissipate from the company, and it will lose traction.

A good vision statement can drive innovation and new ideas as staff get creative in thinking of ways to help realise the vision sooner. If it’s a clear and inspiring destination, your staff will want to get there all the sooner.

It should help build stronger teams as everybody has a common purpose.

What's the difference between a vision and a mission statement?

The vision and mission statements need to have an obvious and definable purpose and not be confused with each other. Otherwise, they will be counterproductive.

Confusion in this area seems to be at nearly 100%. The vision statement is not about the company, but how the world or people’s lives will be improved because the company exists. The vision statement is the emotional half. It needs to answer the question: “How will people feel when we realise our vision?”. Safer, happier, more organised, and so on.

A mission statement is about the company and how its products or services will help make the vision a reality. It has to answer the question: “What does the company have to create for the vision to become a reality?”. The mission statement is the logical half. It’s more definitive and states what will happen, when, by who and how. It’s more tangible.

A vision statement is about the future, making a reality out of a dream, something that would be great to create, to exist, that will benefit mankind and the world one day, so it engages and motivates staff, managers, directors and owners alike.

The vision statement is about what the company hopes to be one day in terms of the good it brings to society. It is the organisation’s North Star.

The vision statement, then, is something that talks to the Society and Family/Community and Planet circles of The Awardaroo Way at a company level, but also at the employee level. Both staff and the company need to have a vision statement they align with.

How to test a vision statement

Try comparing your vision statement to those of your competitors or other companies. Does it look different – you don’t want it to be too generic, or ‘me too’. It needs to be idealistic, unique, and engaging.

It should be grounded in the reality of your business, it must feel realistic, authentic and achievable, but challenging nonetheless.

Who is the vision statement for?

The primary audience for the vision statement is your staff. It has to inspire and motivate them, be something that binds them together as a team. It’s also useful as an external communications tool, but only by way of helping to communicate your identity and purpose.

It’s not a marketing tool per se, that’s not its purpose. But it can certainly help guide marketing messages and the external perception of the company.

What are the benefits of having a vision statement?

  • Staff will be more engaged and if they are more engaged they will be more productive, so your bottom line will improve.

  • It’s a good tool for recruitment to help ensure you attract the right staff that share your ideals and goals, your vision. What have the new hires done in their past that aligns with your vision?

  • It helps to define and update your strategy.

  • It helps people with their time management.

  • It helps to define the company values.

Who creates the vision statement?

It should be created by the owners and directors and then shared with managers and staff for feedback. The vision needs to be congruent with the directors' and owners' aspirations and values for the company and the reason they’ve invested in the business and the risks they are taking.

However, you can’t create a vision by a committee. It has to communicate a clear point of difference or purpose that should be understood by the directors. If this isn’t the case, then the lack of clarity and focus at the top will spell trouble ahead. If you write a vision statement by committee, you’ll end up with an uninspiring compromise that motivates nobody and may even do more harm than good. 

The vision has to come from the top down as ultimately it is senior leadership who will be making the strategic decisions, so they need to own the vision and share it with everybody else for feedback. Everybody needs to be in alignment with the vision.

Before signing off on your vision statement, sharing it with everybody and getting feedback will help you understand if it requires changing while keeping it aligned with the directors’ and owners’ goals and aspirations for the company.

How to use a vision statement

It needs to become a part of the company culture and not just put in a picture frame and left on a wall. As we have said, it can be used as a communications tool for staff and managers to help guide strategic planning decisions.

Your staff have to be bought into the vision statement and feel that it forms a part of their own goals and aspirations.

It is the antidote to the relentless focus many companies have on making short-term profits. Companies should ask themselves does this short-term strategy help us realise the vision statement’s long-term vision or undermine it?

A vision statement is one of many business documents that help to define the company’s purpose and so it needs to align with other business documents, such as the mission statement, strategy and core values. It is an important document and so is the process of writing it as it helps to define the culture of the company. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but changing it should only be done when necessary, as it represents something that everybody in the company buys into and believes in. 

Nine qualities of a good vision statement

A vision statement has to contain the following:

  1. Be concise, inspiring and easily remembered.

  2. Be something that everybody can relate to that will help guide decision-making every day

  3. Be a significant reason people will want to join your company in the first place.

  4. Be specific to your company, your goals and aspirations, something unique that defines your brand

  5. Inspire employees and engage new customers to want to take a closer look at your company, although marketing is not its primary purpose.

  6. It mustn't feel too remote and unobtainable, otherwise it won’t be motivating or too easy to accomplish, as it won't inspire anybody.

  7. It should fit with your company values

  8. It should be something intriguing, novel and engaging that gets people to think, ah yes, I like that idea, I can connect with that

  9. Relate to your market, so it connects with them; kids, men, women, businesses, students, again, even though its primary purpose isn't marketing.

What to consider when writing a vision statement

If you’re writing a vision statement for a start-up, it may be the first thing you do. But if the company is already trading, and you’ve joined as the new managing director, you may need to consider what is already in place. In this case, you may want to ask staff what they think the vision is. See if there is agreement and then how well that fits with your own ideas of what a vision statement should be. In this case, it will be important to take everybody along with you.

However, a vision statement shouldn’t be watered down to increase agreement. It must define the aspirations of the top team. Otherwise, there will be no point in writing it, as it is the top team that defines the culture of the company, and agreement between the vision, values and culture will be key to the long-term success of the company.

For an existing company, you can consider:

1)      What is the company’s current mission statement?

2)      What are the company’s core values?

3)      What is the company’s culture?

4)      What are the company’s strategic goals?

Why do vision statements sometimes fail to engage?

If your business is very reactive and constantly in firefighting, operational and survival mode, just getting through the next three months or year may be the only priority, as you focus on survival. Nobody will be interested in the vision statement.

If the culture is not conducive to long-term growth, if communication is poor, trust is low, and it’s a toxic place to work, then nobody will be looking at the vision. They’ll be more interested in their next mortgage payment or job opportunity.

Perhaps your company is not driven by a big-picture strategy, and some might say that's OK as in this Forbes article, but that's not OK. It may work in the short term, but not the long term.

Vision statement examples

  1. IKEA: "To create a better everyday life for the many people."

  2. Tesla: "To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy."

  3. TED: "Spread ideas."

  4. Disney: "To make people happy."

  5. Microsoft: “To help people throughout the world realise their full potential.”

  6. Nike: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

  7. Oxfam: “A just world without poverty.”

  8. Google: "To organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

  9. Tesla: “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”

  10. Uber: “We ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.”

  11. LinkedIn: "Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.”

For comparison, example mission statements:

“Uber is evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers.”

“Our goal when we created Tesla a decade ago was the same as it is today: to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.”

"Swarovski adds sparkle to everyday life with high-quality products and services that exceed our customers’ desires. We inspire our colleagues with innovation and reward their achievements while striving to expand our market leadership."

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