Traditional Vision Statements – An Opportunity Lost

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When I look at most traditional strategic plans I can’t tell the difference between their mission and vision statements. While they use different words and seem to be talking about slightly different things, to me, they both look like high level statements talking about what the organization aspires to be and/or do.


What a waste! This duplication represents a lost opportunity to start solving one of the biggest problems we have in businesses today: the failure to do what our strategic plans say we want do and achieve what we say we want to achieve.


While many issues contribute to this problem, one of the biggest factors is the disconnect between the high minded language featured in the mission, vision, and goal statements found in a traditional strategic plan and the action required to bring that company’s strategy to life.


This disconnect happens because employees HEAR what the strategy is but they can’t SEE what it looks like in action!


Hold on – so one of the critical problems here is an actual visionproblem? To do the right things strategically people need to be able to visualize or see the strategy in action? Yes! So, knowing this, here’s how we can solve this particular problem.


First, let me be clear that I fully support having a mission statement that talks about who we are, our reason for being, and where we are striving to go. Every organization needs a beacon to look towards, align with, and guide their decisions. The best mission statements are short and to the point (please! no more long rambling missions that no one can remember), include action words (it’s amazing how using verbs inspires people to take action), and are inspirational to all who read them.


However, let’s re-purpose the vision statement and turn it into a visible “signpost” of progress towards our mission that also suggests the direction and action required to make this progress. With that in mind, here’s a new definition for the vision statement:


Built on its core values and mission, an organization’s vision should paint a clear, action-oriented, and measurable PICTURE of what it wants to achieve by a defined point in the future. The vision should stretch the organization’s capabilities and IMAGE of itself and clarify the direction of the organization.


Most importantly, a clear and focused vision helps all of the organization’s stakeholders (including its employees) see and understand why and how they can support the organization, in an actionable way, as it strives to achieve its strategic goals and objectives.


Here is an example of this new approach to the vision statement:

Metro City Rehabilitation Clinics

Mission statement: Helping our patients live the best life possible as soon as possible.

Vision 2015: The regional leader in positive patient outcomes through the use of leading-edge treatment protocols.


Can you see the difference between the mission and vision?


While the mission statement helps us understand where the clinic is trying to go, the required strategic action isn’t immediately clear. However, the vision statement makes it easy to see what the clinic will look like/be achieving by 2015 (the regional leader in terms of positive patient outcomes) and what action will get it there (providing leading-edge treatments). The vision helps employees see what they need to do to help the clinic strategically: learn about and use leading-edge treatment protocols; and focus on facilitating positive patient outcomes. In this way, the vision statement really helps begin clarifying what action is required to move the organization forward strategically.   


Take a look at your organization’s vision statement right now. Does it help your employees and stakeholders see what the strategy looks like in action? Or is it a wasted opportunity in the form of a riff on your mission statement?  


Take the opportunity to improve your company’s vision statement today!