Is A Vision Statement Just Motherhood And Apple Pie?
Or is it something more serious?
Posted by Jacky Sherman on 27/04/2022 @ 8:00AM
I remember with a smile being in a group with some senior hospital consultants going through the concept of a Vision Statement ...
Long discussions take place in boardrooms to come up with the perfect vision statement!
copyright: cegoh / pixabay
After a few round-the-table ideas emerged we pulled together the first draft. I'm pleased to say that I can't share this with you as it's lost in the mists of time where it most certainly deserves to be.
All I remember is one extremely condescending professor referring to it as "All motherhood and apple pie" and that was the end of that particular meeting!
But, of course, he was right. We'd produced an almost meaningless statement full of long high-sounding values that no one could contest, but neither did anyone know how they related to what we stood for.
As one anonymous writer on Google has put it, you can no more be against "motherhood and apple pie" than you can be against "the eradication of poverty" or "world peace".
So, how can you describe your vision for your business in one pithy sentence that isn't motherhood and apple pie? You'll know when it's right because you'll feel it and so will others, but getting to that stage can take a bit of work. To help free your mind up to explore the right issues I use a simple mnemonic plus an instruction: Aspire, Inspire and Motivate. AIM high, but keep your feet on the ground.
Let's talk through it with a few examples of vision statements from some successful large companies. Whilst I have chosen these as they are well known, the principles apply also to smaller businesses from the one-man band upwards.
You need to have a clear picture in your mind of what your purpose is. A good question to answer is, "What will be different in the world as a result of your business endeavours?" But defining your aspiration is more than that. Aspiration is something that you desire earnestly. Usually at present out of reach that you will need to strive to get. It's what drives your efforts. So, when setting that out it needs to stretch you, but equally needs to be achievable.
Probably the most well-known vision statement is Bill Gates in the early 1990's: "A computer on every desk and in every home" was certainly a stretch at the time. Applying it consistently proved to be a challenge and to date has not been achieved and not only in poorer nations. For me, Satya Nadella's vision statement for Microsoft is far less specific and strays into motherhood and apple pie territory: "To empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more." Achieve more what?
Gate's new vision is, "By 2035 there will be almost no poor nations left on Earth". May and may not be consistent with his intentions in his Microsoft days, but the point I'm making is that they are both big and challenging aspirational goals. Whether any of these are achievable is another matter.
As a considerably smaller organisation that I am personally involved with, The Green Business Network also has a stretching vision statement which is, "A Green Strategy in Every Business in our area". However, we also kept our feet firmly on the ground. I doubt if any of us would have signed up to a vision statement that omitted the last three words.
This is how you get others to buy into and support your ambitions. Your vision statement needs to talk to your stakeholders and match their values if you're going to get them on board to support you. Your stakeholders are more than just your team and shareholders, it includes your customers and suppliers and also the wider communities.
The present environmental crisis is making this highly relevant and companies that can get across their ethical and environmental values are more likely to generate that level of support.
Here's two contrasting vision statements from players who have a direct impact on that agenda:
Conoco Philips China, "To be the leading international petroleum company in China". Maybe appealing to their shareholders and (some) staff, but do their customers care and at best it has nothing to offer the wider community at worst demonstrates a complete disregard for the impact their work is having on others. As vision is a long term aspiration then this tells us nothing about how this organisation will weather that storm so why should others invest in them?
Toyota, on the other hand, has made that leap and recognised they have a value that outlasts the internal combustion engine. They also avoid the motherhood trap of 'saving the planet'. "Toyota will lead the way to the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people"
Which would you go to work for, invest in, buy from or recommend?
This is about getting people to act, to make someone feel determined to do something and be enthusiastic about doing it. Your vision statement and the sense of purpose behind it are what make you get up in the morning and go to work.
It's also what keeps you going when things get tough. In the broadest sense people are motivated to move away from pain and towards pleasure and it does this through stirring our emotions. What motivates us is that emotional response.
I'm going to end with these lovely and very different vision statements that I'd say are my top three that show how, in a few well-chosen words, we can stir someone's emotions to want to come with us.
Ken Blanchard: "To be the number one advocate in the world for human worth in organisations"
Ben & Jerry's: "Making the best possible ice cream, in the nicest possible way"
Alzheimer's Association: "A World without Alzheimer's"
So, my tip this week is to AIM high, but keep your feet on the ground. Avoid meaningless statements that lead you into pie-making territory. Condensing your vision into as succinct yet powerful a message as these three is not easy.
I suspect many long discussions took place in each of their boardrooms to come up with these statements.
Until next time ...
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