|How to Write a Vision Statement Without the Jargon.|
By Andrew Grant
Wednesday, 20th June 2012
Part 1: The power of the process - Why most mission statements miss the point.
The final sentence, and that wretched comma
We have just finished the process of assisting an executive team from a Fortune 500 insurance company with designing and implementing a new 5 year vision that will be rolled out country wide.
It was a rewarding experience with great outcomes. As we got close to the end of the session, however, the team became stuck in an in depth deliberation over a minute detail. “Do we put a comma in or not?” This discussion went backwards and forwards until I noticed the body language of some members who became increasingly impatient. Many were wondering, “Is it really necessary to debate about a comma?!”
As the facilitator of the process I tried to remain neutral. To an outsider the answer might be a clear, many would think this would be a waste of precious executive time, but what was really happening was much more than simply a pedantic debate about a ‘comma ‘. The team was actually involved in an engaging discussion about deeper core values, and you could say the comma was just the tip of the iceberg.
This debate revealed critical differences in thinking about who the company really is and what it actually stands for. This process was even more important in this situation, as the Vision Mission Values (VMV) had to then be translated into a second language, so the drilling down to the core values and how they could best be represented in words was essential.
More than words: the power of the process
If a VMV is not clear at the board / executive level, how would the average employee know what the critical values are and how to action them? Flowery words are often thrown around in VMV sessions, but they do not always lead to practical actions. A lack of clarity in VMV statements can block employees from identifying and measuring appropriate behaviors effectively, ultimately rendering these statements confusing at best or useless at worst.
When Wilson Learning surveyed 25,000 employees from the finance and tech industries, the respondents said they wanted a leader who could, "Convey clearly what the work unit is trying to do." This visioning session with the executive team I was with therefore gave the CEO the chance to communicate clearly to keenly listening ears.
During this crafting of the vision with the insurance executives the common phrase “to be the best” was thrown around (as it is by many companies), but what became interesting was the process of coming to a more specific definition gave clarity on the CEO’s vision. It gave the CEO the chance to explain the point of differentiation he felt was essential: “We don’t have to be the best at everything, BUT we have to be the best at what WE DO”.
This was a simple clarification that was so critically needed. You see that up until that time the sales people had felt they had to match or better their competitors, but with this clarification the sales people now had a clear focus. So while to the outsider it would have appeared that the executive team was playing with semantics (and at the most base level we were), the process of what was going on behind the scenes was what was critical.
What most companies miss in the visioning sessions is that the journey to come up with the final sentence (that gets engraved and hung on the wall) is actually the most important part. And the more people in the organization are involved in this process, the more buy in you get.
Not just on the fridge – now the tough part, implementation
Several years ago we sent a film team (with a comedian and camera operator) to an office to ask the employees if they knew what their organization mission and vision were. Many of them enthusiastically told us it was displayed on the fridge. However upon further questioning we discovered that nobody actually knew what the mission statement was, and we were told it was ‘in corporate speak’. Of course everyone claimed to be unable to speak ‘corporate’!
A vision statement needs to get off the walls (or in this case the fridge) and become implanted in the psyche of the individuals and the culture of the organisation. Again here we see the most effective way to do this is to involve everyone in the process so they are not only proud of it but understand what it means.
The final sentence is really just a reminder of the journey they have shared together. To people not involved in this process it can become simply empty words, sometimes even cynical words if they have no real impact. If they cannot be implemented they can actually have a negative effect.
So, is a poor VMV worse than none at all?
Tirian is a leading international organizational learning and development company.
Tirian transcends the boundaries of traditional corporate experience, providing a dynamic foundation for proactive organizational growth. We specialize in building competence for organizations at all levels. Our range of innovative learning programs and consulting services create positive intervening experiences that build platforms for open discovery and exploration of important issues.
These experiences break down barriers. They drive individuals and teams to work toward structured outcomes and to achieve full potential in the organization.