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The dos and don’ts of creating your company vision

Companies can quickly fail if they lack a strategic frame or mental model that lets them answer important questions.

The dos and don’ts of creating your company vision
[Gajus / Adobe Stock]

Do you shop at Kmart anymore? What about Kodak or Blockbuster? Is anyone using a Blackberry? Probably not. And there’s a reason for that.

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The shared problem all of these companies had, at least at the end of their business, was an inefficient, nebulous company vision. These companies struggled to pivot and stay relevant because they couldn’t define the difference they really wanted to make in the market and the world or how they wanted to achieve it. Employees didn’t have anything to unify behind, and customers didn’t understand how the companies were supposed to improve their lives.

These business stories show that when your vision is fuzzy, you’re like a car without a steering wheel. Can you move forward? Maybe. But you have no idea where you’ll end up.

Here’s what it takes to create a successful company vision and what you should avoid along the way.

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DO…

1. KEEP IT UNDER 20 WORDS.

Generally, people aren’t going to remember a paragraph. They’re going to remember something short and sweet. A good rule of thumb is that your vision statement should fit on the back of a business card in big font.

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Vision statements from LinkedIn and TED are great examples of this, especially the latter’s two-word vision: “Spread ideas.”

2. MAKE SURE EVERY WORD HAS A PURPOSE

Every word included in a vision statement should connote something. If you look at the words Nike uses in its vision statement (“To remain the most authentic, connected, and distinctive brand.”), you get a sense of how it wants its culture and interactions to be with words like “authentic.” The word “remain” also signals that the brand is already enjoying market success. Once you know the right intent is there, tighten everything up with a solid grammar check.

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3. USE EVERYDAY WORDS

Disney’s mission statement once was “make people happy.” Something like, “to enliven the jovial spirit” would have upheld their purpose and stayed brief, but that’s not how most people talk. Home in on the meaning and feeling you want to bring about, then think about the simplest, most common way to say it.

4. MAKE IT MEMORABLE

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Brevity, purpose, and everyday language are all foundational for making a vision statement easy to remember. But think about the emotions you’re evoking along the way, too—people connect with brands based on feelings more than anything. Put a clear picture in their head, with no fluff, and it will stick with them.

DON’T…

1. MAKE THE VISION STATEMENT STANDARD

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The mission statement for Albertsons is “To create a shopping experience that pleases our customers; a workplace that creates opportunities and a great working environment for our associates; and a business that achieves financial success.” The language is clear enough, but it doesn’t make clear what Albertson’s does. This statement could apply to thousands of businesses. Make sure your statement leaves no doubt about what you provide and the unique influence those provisions have.

2. MAKE IT DISTANT

Your vision statement can distance customers from your brand if it conveys something they don’t really understand or encounter when interacting with the business. KFC fell victim to this in 2013 when its vision statement was “To sell food in a fast, friendly environment that appeals to price-conscious, health-minded consumers…” KFC’s buyers weren’t necessarily unconcerned about their health, but the vision statement missed the fact that, based on their experience with fried chicken in general, the people who went to the restaurants expected the KFC food to be as fatty and calorie-laden as it was delicious.

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In addition to using brief, everyday language, connect the statement to something people know about, value, and expect from you.

3. TRY TO DO EVERYTHING

At one point, Avon’s mission statement weighed in at a whopping 249 words covering six core aspirations. There’s nothing wrong with having more than one goal in a company, but all of your aspirations should fit in one folder that’s easy to label.

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4. MAKE IT HARD TO FIND

Early in my career, the businesses I was with always had a clear vision. When I started going out and doing turnaround work for larger companies, though, I’d ask them what their vision statement was because it wasn’t clear to me. The leadership team at one of these companies responded to my request by saying they’d go track it down for me. My response was, if you have to track it down, you don’t have a vision. You just have words on a sheet of paper. You should be able to catch your employees in the hallway and have them tell you the company vision.

A GREAT VISION PROPELS YOU FORWARD

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If you don’t create a solid vision statement, collaboration will likely suffer because people don’t really know what they’re working for or why. They go in lots of different directions and waste resources along the way. By contrast, a great vision aligns people so they can perform better. The business benefits overall from higher output and quality.

Walmart is a good example of a company that has a vision statement that works. The company is clear that it wants to help busy people and families by enabling them to buy things at lower prices. They honor that vision everywhere, and their expansion into other areas like groceries centers around that idea of affordable, accessible convenience.

A SOLID VISION MEANS SOLID FOOTING FOR THE FUTURE

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Companies can quickly fail if they lack a strategic frame or mental model that lets them answer important questions, such as “How do we create value?” Constructing a vision statement can help you clarify what your frame is so you know exactly what actions to take and stay competitively responsive. Aim for something that’s relatable, short, clear, and unique to you to align employees and customers alike.


CEO of Merchants Fleet, transforming the company’s business model and creating a new fleet industry category known as FleetTech.

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