In a recent blog article, we discussed the importance of an organization’s mission statement. This month, as promised in that article, we’re going to take things a step further and discuss vision statements. Vision statements are extremely important, since they help guide an organization’s future aspirations. As we explore what a good vision statement should look like, we’ll use an article by James Lucas called  “Anatomy of a Vision Statement” as a guide.

Clear vision

Unlike a mission statement, which describes what an organization is, a vision statement is more forward-thinking. In short, it tells us what an agency aspires to be. Lucas explains that we need vision statements for several reasons:

To guide us – A good vision statement can be viewed as a map leading everyone to where they need to be. Because everyone is reading the same directions, it should keep all employees and volunteers on the same path.

To remind us – You’ll know you have good statement when you can look back at it — a month from now, a year from now, or even later — and still understand where the organization is headed.

To inspire us – This need is particularly important for volunteers. An inspirational statement can help keep them motivated and working toward a common purpose.

To control us – Although growth is important, an agency never wants to wander too far outside of its core competencies. A big part of good vision is maintaining focus.

To free us – As a forward-looking statement, a vision message can be freeing.  Although the past is important, sometimes it holds us back. Strong vision keeps us from floating along and challenges us to break out of useless patterns.

As an example of a strong vision statement, Lucas mentions Rubbermaid. This organization’s message, Our vision is to be a global company of Brands That Matter and great people, known for best in class results, does a great job of being future-oriented and inspirational. It is loftier than a mission statement, but not to the extent of being unreasonable. Rubbermaid also designed this statement to acknowledge the role their employees will play in the company’s vision.

Blurred vision

When writing or evaluating a vision statement, beware of traps to avoid. Lucas warns that one tendency is to draft a message that is sugar-coated. Your statement should be more inspiring than your mission statement, but avoid being too flowery. Stick to the facts of what your core values and principles are, as well as how you’re going to use them in the future. Also, remember that your statement is not an advertising slogan or a time to discuss your organization’s history.

Vision — what an agency strives to be and how it plans to get there — should be a part of both operations and strategy. Your organization’s future depends on it.  As the old adage says, “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.”