Here’s a profound thought: Whatever your current situation, from your bank balance to the shoes on your feet, it is the direct result of decisions you made getting here. You set the trajectory and forged the causal chain link by link, and it has all led inexorably to this place.
Well… OK, so what? It’s not like we can turn back the clock and redo the decisions we regret. For good or ill, the past is set in stone. There’s no going back a year or two and telling our past self not to go down that side road or avoid some wasteful distraction. Except, with strategic vision, there is a way to time travel.
Rethinking Strategic Vision
We’ve fallen into the habit of thinking corporate mission and vision statements are more pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking and PR than useful. Here’s how the executive trainers at B2B Whiteboard define it: “A strategic vision, is an ambitious view of the future that everyone in the organization can believe in and that is not readily attainable, yet offers a future that is better in important ways, than what now exists.” Part inspiration, part aspiration, a dash of idealism, but largely an achievable goal — one that defines what success will mean for the organization.
Coca-Cola dedicates a Web page to its Strategic Vision. They call it 2020 Vision, using the pun on the year. It’s nice. Full of positive values, but extremely short on specifics. To be of any practical use, we need specifics — a concrete picture of who I will be and what my company will be, four or five years from now looking back at today. This means all the significant stats. It’s not enough to say future-you has franchised your business. Pin it down. How many locations? Where are they? How much do they net?
The reason for the specificity is to then ask (still speaking as future-you), “What do I do a year before to get here?” And then play this game again, all the way back until you reach the present to see what steps in the chain have to be accomplished this year, this month, and today. Your future self is, in effect, helping guide your present self — just the kind of time travel we were looking for.
Making Your Vision Public
Specifics give us targets and goals. This is essential because they generate ideas and motivate unambiguous action. We can enhance this effect by writing down our vision and making it public. There are two strong psychological reasons for doing so. The first is communicating our expectations to employees, partners, and stakeholders. It’s a tremendous aid in communication and team building. But the second is just as powerful — a public commitment is difficult to back out of.
Psychologists tell us that when we broadcast our goals, we tap into social mechanisms, which act to push us strongly toward meeting those challenges. Failure costs more when we’ve publicly identified ourselves with a goal. Failure now adds shame, guilt and disappointment — the kind of painful negatives we will work harder to avoid than if our vision is a private matter. As a bonus, making the specifics public forces us to be serious, sober, and grounded.
Evaluating Your Vision Statement
A good Strategic Vision statement has these properties:
It’s Realistic: Don’t allow yourself to imagine an ideal world or windfall — your company five years from now will largely be governed by the same circumstances and live in the same landscape as it does today.
It’s Reasonable: If you don’t believe it, no one else will either. Are you shaping your business in ways that align with this vision? Do the members of your organization find it credible? Unreasonable expectations do not inspire, they get ignored because they aren’t relevant.
It’s Enticing: The future outlined has to be attractive to gain the motivation desired. Those who cannot “buy in” do not belong in the organization — make the vision worth the commitment.
It’s Scalable: From the top down, everyone in the organization should benefit. Each has their perspective on the value of your vision to them. “You will be making double your entry wage, have a month’s vacation, and be fully vested in a 401(k),” means a heck of a lot more to a line employee than the business metrics, which concern the CEO.
With these attributes in hand, a Vision Statement is then evaluated by what it produces:
It spawns cohesiveness and adds meaning. As part of a larger whole, motivated by a single vision, the entire organization should feel they know not only their role, but how they contribute to the greater purpose.
It creates dedication and boosts energy. Loyalty and enthusiasm cannot be purchased with a salary. It comes from working usefully toward a desired objective. And this attribute is just as important for the entrepreneur as it is for employees.
It communicates clear performance objectives. Excellence in an organization is defined by expectations, and expectations are informed by the overall vision.
Most importantly, a Strategic Vision has to connect today with the future. It bridges the gap and allows us to step back and evaluate what we are doing now in a broader context. In this sense, it is informative and a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Who we are is defined by it because who we are flows toward who we will become, where we are going and how we will get there.