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Writing a vision statement is one of the more romantic-sounding aspects of starting a new business. But with so many tasks to juggle, summarizing your company’s core values with a clever slogan may be pretty low on your list of priorities.
However, there comes a time in every company’s story when it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture: why they started out and where they’re going. Important decisions can feel overwhelming, risks can seem insurmountable, and the way forward may be unclear.
This is where a vision statement can help. It’s a single phrase that offers guidance to you and your team over the long term—an idea that serves as an objective to reach for, as well as a reminder of the underlying values of your company.
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In this article, we’ll talk about how to write a vision statement, go into more detail about why vision statements are important, and take a look at some examples.
Vision statement definition
A vision statement is a clear and concise objective for your company that states the impact you want it to have on the world one day.
Typically just several words long, an effective and memorable vision statement encapsulates your company’s core values, expressing them in a short and snappy declaration of what the business will hopefully achieve in five, 10, or 20 years’ time.
The statement can be a bold and ambitious vision for the long-term goals of your company, or a complete moonshot. It can be a wildly improbable target you might never actually reach, but one that can guide the ongoing mission of your business and motivate and inspire the people who work for it.
Why create a vision statement?
Not every company with a vision statement goes on to achieve enormous success, but the most successful and long-standing companies all have vision statements of some kind.
Vision is defined by a company’s core values, and core values are the bedrock on which the enduring parts of the company are built. Strategies, business practices, products, and ideals might change, but a company’s true vision is its most important guiding principle when it comes to making long-term decisions.
Vision statements don’t have to be dreamily vague or come across like motivational posters. At their most impactful, vision statements are plainly stated and an authentic reflection of what a company truly believes to be most important to its mission and survival.
Vision statement example
Walmart’s vision statement is “to be the destination for customers to save money, no matter how they want to shop.” This simple objective reflects the core values of a giant and complex company, values that are rooted in meeting the needs of its customers by selling products that are affordable above all.
A vision statement is more than just a catchy slogan. When Walmart is choosing which products to stock on its shelves and where to open new stores, those decisions are guided by the company’s stated vision. Over many years, and eventually decades, a foundational vision statement helps to ensure a company’s core values are being adhered to and that its mission doesn’t drift, even as the business landscape changes around it.
What parts does a vision statement need to have?
Before you think about what goes into creating a vision statement, it’s worth thinking about what doesn’t go into a vision statement.
A vision statement shouldn’t be much longer than a sentence, and it shouldn’t include generic-sounding goals that could belong to any business in any industry. “Be the very best” is as much a vision statement for a football team as it is for an ice cream truck.
Vision statement example
Vision statements can be specific and sharply phrased, with clear goals to aim for. For example, Southwest Airlines’ vision statement is “to become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.” Southwest is currently the third largest airline in the world by passenger numbers, and seventh by revenue. This hugely ambitious vision statement reflects not just a goal to reach the top of both tables, but to do so without sacrificing customer satisfaction along the way.
However your vision statement may be constructed, the elements included should scream your company’s core values and project them into a future in which your company’s mission and purpose have been fully realized. A powerful example of this is Oxfam’s simple four-word vision statement: “A world without poverty.”
What’s the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement?
Though they’re closely related concepts, a vision statement is not the same as a mission statement. Mission statements are all about the here and now. They describe who you are, what your company is about, how it operates, and its purpose. A mission statement is a definition of your company as it exists today.
A vision statement is all about tomorrow and builds on the mission statement. Vision statements are audacious and forward-looking. They describe a point in the future in which the mission of your company has been achieved and its values have had a real and lasting impact on the world.
Mission statement example
Oxfam’s vision statement is “a world without poverty,” but its mission statement is “to help create lasting solutions to the injustice of poverty.”
The former speaks to an imagined future, however distant, that helps to unite and motivate the entire organization to achieve it. The latter is a description of what Oxfam is doing today to make that vision a reality.
The importance of a vision statement
Companies of all sizes can benefit from writing a vision statement. For the planet’s most powerful and influential organizations, vision statements are totemic phrases that can guide decades or perhaps even centuries of doing business.
But even the smallest startups can find real value in crafting and adopting a vision statement. The process of creating a vision statement requires careful introspection and consideration of your company’s core values. Figuring out which parts of running a business you’re unwilling to compromise on—cost, quality, the speed of service, the environmental impact—then baking those ideals into a vision statement helps to clarify the direction your company is moving in.
Evolving companies can review previous statements as they grow and adapt, to see which values have fallen by the wayside and which ones still remain part of the vision.
Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.