Imagine sitting down for a cup of coffee with each employee in your organization. After a bit of small talk, you ask them about your shared vision. “How has the vision impacted your work?” you ask. A good question. After all, that’s an important purpose of having a vision.
How many people would say something along the lines of, “Vision? What vision?” How many more would make something up to try to communicate whatever they think you’re hoping to hear? And how many would actually have a compelling story of how the vision has impacted what they do every day?
The ROI on most company’s vision statements is shockingly low. Organizations spend days, if not weeks, of senior leaders’ time crafting them. Often outside consultants are hired. They gather for several days at a nice retreat center. The process is typically iterated several times. Yet most people in most organizations have no idea what the vision is. And even fewer believe it has any impact at all on their work.
Why is this?
There are actually five fundamental reasons corporate vision is so often ineffective. But one reason stands above the rest as most common and most ignored. If your organization’s vision needs a boost, starting here will give you the most traction.
The single most important question to ask about your vision is, “Who cares?” If the answer is “The board and executive team care.” Then you should seriously consider scrapping it and starting over. The unfortunate reality is that your vision may be irrelevant to the people who most need it.
The vision doesn’t primarily exist for top leadership, shareholders, or even customers. It exists for employees. Others will benefit from your vision only insofar as the employees live it out. Many organizations craft their vision statement for one of these secondary audiences which leaves the primary audience unaffected.
Your vision should motivate employees to get out of bed and come to work in the morning. It should help leaders make tough decisions. It should bring cohesiveness to teams and across departments. If it isn’t doing this, you’re not getting your money’s worth.
Getting the vision right takes serious investment. It’s hard work. And too many leaders let it remain irrelevant to the people it should be helping most. One business owner I talked with said, “I’ve been in business for more than 45 years. I’ve sat on the boards of many companies. Without a doubt the biggest problem in business is a lack of vision.”
If scrapping your vision and starting over isn’t feasible, then consider this: How can you take what you have and communicate it to employees in a way that rallies the troops? Maybe they won’t ever remember or even care about the words on the plaque in the lobby. But you can still use the ideas to help your organization come together around a common purpose.