Creating a Meaningful Vision Statement

Conveying a company’s message takes the effort of not just management, but all employees.

Columns From: 3/21/2011 Modern Machine Shop,

We have all seen various types of vision statements posted throughout organizations. These statements go by different names such as “Mission Statement,” “Statement of Core Values and Principles,” “Quality Vision,” “Customer Commitment Statement,” or simply “Company Vision Statement.” Generally, these vision statements are developed after a period of extensive review and involve significant effort by the management team. Some of these statements are well-written and deliver a clear message. 
 
Unfortunately, in my experience, very few employees take the time to read these vision statements, and those who do don’t understand them or know how they relate to them personally. If this is the case, a company has really missed an opportunity to convey an important message. The words may look good, and perhaps some customers are impressed that the company has taken the time to describe its vision, but without a genuine buy-in from the workforce, the vision statement is nothing more than words on a page.
 
Companies that are serious about turning a vision into a reality need to involve their employees in the creation of a meaningful vision statement. Employee support comes from employee involvement. The need for a vision statement will always be a “top-down” directive, but its development needs to come from the “bottom-up.”
 
A practical way to obtain employee input for a vision statement is for managers to spend time soliciting personal comments regarding each employee’s views about the company. This can be done in a structured manner, with the manager posing questions such as:
 
  1. What do you think we do well?
  2. What do you value most in the company?
  3. What do you think our customers are most satisfied with today?
  4. How can we keep our customers satisfied going forward?
 
Simple questions such as these should elicit a certain amount of input from everyone. Of course, some responses will be more positive than others, but it’s important to give all employees a chance to offer their points of view.
 
Once each manager has obtained input, this input must be sorted into categories. Examples of applicable categories include workforce commitment, customer focus, quality, process capabilities, employee knowledge base, fast turnaround and reinvestment in facilities. 
 
The next step is for the management team to gather and review one another’s categories and specific employee input. The goal is to find commonality of the feedback obtained. The most frequent responses will form the core of the vision statement. From the core, the entire vision statement will be developed. In its final version, the vision statement should be:
 
  1. Brief and to the point—Vision statements that are too wordy lose meaning. When it comes to vision statements, the expression “less is more” holds true.
  2. Positive—While it is not necessary to distort a company’s image, the focus must be on its positive aspects and traits. One objective of a vision statement is to make people feel good about and personally connected to the company.
  3. Universally understandable—The shorter the words, the greater the chance for company-wide understanding of the vision statement. Highly technical terms have a place in company literature and daily operations, but do not belong in a vision statement.
  4. Achievable for each person, despite their level in the organization—The vision statement must be something to which everyone can relate—it cannot be too specific to any particular area in the business. For example, if the vision statement is heavily geared toward new product development, machinists or administrative personnel may not feel they can contribute significantly to this. On the other hand, a more general statement that focuses on producing products that best satisfy customer needs is something in which everyone in the organization can feel a part.
 
Vision statements are just one type of communication tool that can prove valuable to any organization. A shared vision is an essential first step to achieving business success. Yet too often, we allow a chosen few to create our vision statement and expect everyone to get on board. The best vision statements are those developed with everyone’s input. Keep this in mind when you feel the need to generate a vision for your company. 

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