How to Write a Vision Statement

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 19th June 2015

Mentioned in just about every article or CEO address, and in every strategic plan and annual report, ‘vision’ is a common yet elusive word. Here, we have a go at pinning down its meaning, and turning it into something that can be acted upon by writing a compelling vision statement.

Bringing it back down to earth

How to Write a Vision Statement

Sometimes, perhaps even often, the ‘vision’ in question is more of a marketing slogan or piece of wishful thinking about an imagined and desirable ‘promised land’.

Now, I like to imagine a better tomorrow as much as anyone. But that ‘blue sky’ isn’t enough for me, and it shouldn’t be enough for you either. If our vision is a destination, or even a direction of travel, then we’re going to need a clear picture of it, and a sufficiently detailed route map for the journey.

A vision statement should provide both: an inspiring and compelling description of the destination we are aiming for over the next 5, 10 or even 20 years, underpinned by some substance about the key initiatives we will implement to get us there.

Mapping out your vision

My approach has always been to use A-D-C-B, where A is our current position, described in terms of a wide range of indicators of performance, outcome, status and magnitude. We then need to set a vision of where we want to get by point D (years ahead), and then describe a suitable mid-point (point C), before going on to establish what that requires us to achieve by point B, which may only be 6 months to a year away.

What we are doing here is turning our vision into a route map with milestones. It is essential to use the same measures and indicators at every stage, galvanising ourselves into the actions needed to get moving and ‘on track’ for C and D, by plotting and moving along a detailed path to B.

What to focus on

It is crucial to ensure that our scorecard of indicators and measures is sufficiently wide-ranging to encompass all the big things that really matter – not just money and market, but people, innovation, learning, stakeholder impact and anything else that sometimes keeps us awake at night.

Our vision needs to be a compelling and inspiring one that your people are passionate and enthusiastic about, and that matters to them on an emotional level. Returns for shareholders or profitability are certainly important things, but probably not that inspiring to anyone other than a shareholder.

When thinking about how to write a vision statement, remember that it should resonate with people and talk about the things they care about the most. If in doubt, have a look at the Johnson & Johnson Credo. Written more than 70 years ago, but still widely referred to inside and outside J&J. Other organisations that do this well include Virgin, John Lewis, Innocent, Google and Ella’s Kitchen. You may find some others that inspire you. If you do, please share them with the rest of us.

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