One general and short definition of vision is the aspirations of an organization, namely, what the organization wants to become and intends to achieve in the future. In simple terms, the vision answers the question “Where does the organization want to go?” These aspirations are expressed in the vision statement, which was widely used in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The vision statement is often broad and states the aspirations only, without mentioning the ways that these aspirations will be achieved. Unlike the mission statement, the vision statement is mostly used for the employees of the company and not for external use (e.g., customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders).
The vision of the organization, in order to be successful, has to possess the following characteristics:
- It has to be short and succinct for everyone to remember it and be able to implement it in detail.
- It has to be precise and accurate so as not to create any misunderstandings among the members of the organization regarding its meaning and implementation.
- It has to be simple, clear, and straightforward so as to be understood and accepted by all members of the organization. Thus, employees will be able to participate in achieving the goals.
- At the same time, though, it should not be too detailed and specific, so as not to prevent individuals from expressing their own ideas and adopting innovative practices.
- It has to be inspiring so as to motivate employees toward a common goal.
- It has to create commitment and group cohesiveness and unite employees in such a way that they will be able to achieve that goal effectively, sharing common beliefs.
- It has to guide action so that employees can focus on implementing the strategic plans of the organization and maximizing performance.
Despite its importance, the emphasis on corporate vision has received many criticisms. These include the arguments that it neither motivates nor inspires employees, it does not provide guidance for future action, and it does not create consensus on the strategic goals of the organization. All these criticisms stem from a single argument against the use of visions: it is just a piece of paper on the wall. Opponents of the vision statement go on arguing that it is an internal marketing trick, a statement that is used to motivate employees, but it does not have any real value. To inspire, the opponents argue, the vision should be more than that.
The response to these criticisms is that the real value of it does not rest with the statement itself, but with its creation. During this process, the members involved should question every assumption and fact regarding the organization itself, the way of doing business, and their future plans. At that point, disagreements and conflicts are desirable because they reveal biases and problems in the strategic direction of the organization. In this way, the process of creating a vision statement constitutes a useful tool in identifying and solving organizational problems.
There are some steps that should be taken during the creation of the vision statement in order to possess the characteristics mentioned earlier:
- If possible, all employees, at all levels of the hierarchy, should participate, either directly or indirectly, offering ideas and reviewing the different versions of the vision statement.
- The employees involved should present and analyze the various forces operating in the external environment of the organization, namely, its competitors, customers, and suppliers.
- They should also analyze the internal environment of the organization, namely, its strengths, weaknesses, resources, and competences.
- They should correlate each of the external forces to each of the internal characteristics so as to identify how successful the organization is when dealing with its external environment.
- They should reflect on how the organization can become more efficient and effective in the future.
- When the employees involved prepare the initial version of the vision statement, they should send it to all the employees for comments, ideas, and suggestions.
- After receiving feedback, they can amend the initial version and repeat the procedure a few more times before preparing the final version.
- Once the final version is agreed upon, senior management should communicate the vision and the aspirations behind the vision to all the employees, at all organizational levels of the hierarchy, and actively support it in everyday activities and in the strategic orientation of the organization.
Finally, a successful vision statement does not have to be revised regularly. The means used to achieve the vision may change over time, but the vision itself may remain the same for several years. If, for any reason external or internal to the organization, the aspirations change and the vision statement is considered to be not applicable, unattainable, or obsolete, then the managers of the organization will start changing it and finding a new, more relevant one.
- Anitha Arunsimha, Vision and Mission Statements: Concepts and Cases (Icfai University Press, 2007);
- Aspatore, Inc., Creating a Strategic HR Plan for Your Company: Leading HR Executives on Budgeting, Analyzing Financial Goals, and Developing a Companywide Vision (Aspatore Books, 2006);
- Harvard Business School Press, Keeping Strategy on Track (Harvard Business School Press, 2009);
- Richard Lynch, Corporate Strategy, 4th ed. (Prentice Hall, 2006);
- Michael E. Raynor, “That Vision Thing: Do We Need It?” Long Range Planning (v.31/3, 1998);
- David J. Teece, Dynamic Capabilities and Strategic Management: Organizing for Innovation and Growth (Oxford University Press, 2009).
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