How’s Your Vision Thing?

In 1987 former President George H.W. Bush took a lot of flak for a comment he made in response to the suggestion that he turn his attention from short-term objectives and look to the longer term. He appeared to brush off the idea by saying, “Oh, the vision thing.”

Vision Thing

Political commentators had a field day with Bush’s apparent belief that his job as president was tending to the day-to-day challenges of running the nation efficiently and dealing with problems as they emerged, rather than articulating and pursuing a vision for America’s future. Then along came Bill Clinton with his campaign theme song, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” and America swooned.

Americans are big on the concept of vision. Early in our schooling, we learned that our nation was born from our founding fathers’ vision of freedom. As youngsters, we were confronted with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Upon beginning our careers, we were challenged to set and achieve goals. Virtually every endeavor we undertake has an implicit desirable future outcome. Your business should be no exception.

In the early 90s, Honda Motor Company declared a seemingly strange corporate sales goal: Six Hondas in Every Garage by the Year 2000. The company’s leaders were attempting to create a vision that focused on the breadth of the Honda product line — motorcycles, generators, lawn mowers, snow blowers, air compressors, farm equipment — as well as its automobiles. It was a vivid vision that energized Honda’s sales force.

Does your business have a vision that fires your employees’ imagination and inspires your customers’ loyalty? If not, consider drafting a business vision statement. Doing so can give your business a focus that will beef up your bottom line.

A vision statement provides both internal and external benefits to your company. It plays a role in setting performance standards for your employees that will guide them toward fulfilling your business objectives and encourage them to work more productively toward long-term common goals. A vision statement serves as a  foundation for ethical behavior and a starting point for your management’s thinking on strategic issues, especially during times of significant change.

Likewise, your external relationships benefit from a vision statement because it clearly communicates  your business’s objectives to your customers, suppliers, strategic partners and other stakeholders. It also makes recruiting good employees easier by attracting individuals who are motivated by clearly defined goals. Used strategically in your marketing and public relations efforts, a vision statement can send a potent message to the rest of the world.

An effective vision statement is a concise, motivational and memorable description of your business’s ideal future that people can picture in their minds. Typically, a vision statement originates at the owner level. However, employees at all employment levels should be involved in crafting it, if you want everyone to buy into it.

There are many approaches to creating a business vision statement, but the process doesn’t have to be complicated. Answers these questions and you’ll be well on your way:

•     What are the core values that guide the behavior of this business? Core values should represent the unwavering beliefs of your business’s leadership. They are principles that influence decisions every day at every level and define what is permissible and what is not. Examples of core values include: ethical business practices; respect for individuals; fairness in all relationships.

•     What is the core purpose of this business? Your core purpose is your enterprise’s reason for existing beyond providing profit. What is it that your business contributes to the world? Look beyond the product or the service you provide to the outcomes they produce. For example, the purpose of my wife’s orthodontic practice is not merely to straighten teeth, but to create happiness through healthy and beautiful smiles.

•     What would the ideal image of our company look like to our employees, customers, suppliers and the community? The answers to this question should encompass the things that make your business unique from your competitors. Your answers will provide you with standards for measuring your progress toward your vision and identify training and other resources you’ll need to get where you want to go.

Use your responses to these questions to create a vision statement with no more than three sentences. Remember, it should be concise, motivational and memorable. State your vision in the present tense, as though it is already an accomplished fact. This creates a dynamic, motivating connection with the future that makes the vision seem more real and attainable. Finally, enlist everyone on your team to submit a final vision statement. You might even offer a reward to the person whose rendition is selected.

Former President Bush may have missed an opportunity to challenge us to look beyond current conditions to a future in which the American Dream is a reality for all Americans. Frankly, any politician who doesn’t have a handle on “the vision thing” is unlikely to inspire voter support. We want our leaders to point us toward a better place and help us find the path to get there. That’s as true in business as it is in politics.