“If you don’t know where your New York is, how will you know when you’ve got there?”
This was a quote from my line director when I was working for a bank. He was talking to a number of senior managers about setting the business vision – the destination, and specifically being able to clearly articulate that vision both verbally and visually. It was one of those impactful quotes that has stayed with me.
This blog has been inspired from the work I’ve recently done with a leading UK university – although, there are other things going on in the UK that this blog could be relevant to, I’ve decided not to mention the B word.
The development of any organisation’s vision is a leadership responsibility. And I would argue one of the most important and possibly one of the hardest roles that a leader has to undertake. The process to define a vision depends on many factors – the current organisational strategy, the changes in the external environment, the ambitions of new leaders joining the organisation, and so on. This blog will not cover all scenarios for vision and strategy development, however, will focus on what makes a great vision statement.
Based on Whitecap’s experience of working with clients on strategy development, we have four practical ‘rules’ for the vision statement:
1. There is no standard template
The vision statement must be tailored to meet the needs of the organisation – there is no ‘cookie cutter’ standard template. Sound obvious?
To start the process, we ask our clients:
– How will the vision statement be used? Internally, externally or both?
– Is the vision statement brand new, or an iteration of a previous vision?
– What strategy framework is in place or is likely to be used in the organisation (as the vision statement is a part of the framework, albeit the most important part)?
– What is the organisation’s style of communication? (e.g. punchy or detailed)
– What is the ‘mood’ of the organisation? How would you describe the ‘culture’ of the organisation?
The following three vision statements outline different approaches that organisations have taken to define their future aspirations and ambitions.
To be the most creative organisation in the world.
Our vision is a world in which all people’s basic needs – such as shelter, clean water, sanitation, food and reliable power – are fulfilled in an environmentally sustainable way and be a company that improves the quality of the environment and the communities where we live and work.
To remain a world-leading institution for scientific research and education.
To harness the quality, breadth and depth of our research capabilities to address the difficult challenges of today and the future.
To develop the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics.
To provide an education for students from around the world that equips them with the knowledge and skills they require to pursue their ambitions.
To make a demonstrable economic and social impact through the translation of our work into practice worldwide.
These three statements illustrate different approaches taken to defining the vision statement. Reading each one, there is a natural tendency is to start to analyse and critique each statement, however there is no right or wrong approach.
There is a need to take a tailored approach for each organisation – this is the most important rule.
2. Be inspirational
The vision should enthuse and inspire.
The vision statement is the ‘rallying cry’ articulating of the organisation’s ambitions. It needs to resonate with and be appropriate to the audience (often colleagues and customers).
3. But be realistic
The audience will need to feel and believe that the vision can be achieved.
There is more often than not, a tension between being inspirational and realistic. Leaders have to test and iterate the vision at this stage to define an appropriate statement. Getting the positioning right requires feedback and challenge from a broad enough representation of the audience.
4. Be clear and descriptive
The statement should use appropriate, concise and jargon free language reflecting the personality of the organisation. Every word must serve a purpose and must be the optimal choice. The length of the vision statement should be appropriate to convey the vision clearly – i.e. this could be one bullet point, or it could be a number of bullet points (as illustrated in the examples above).
Simply put, because of its importance, the final vision statement needs to be perfect.
Regardless of what type or size of organisation you lead, defining and communicating “your New York” is one of the most important tasks that you will have to undertake – hopefully, these practical rules will be useful to you.
If you feel that your strategic planning would benefit from independent review and challenge, and would like to have a no obligation discussion, please get in touch with us here.
Established in 2012, Whitecap Consulting is a regional strategy consultancy headquartered in Leeds, with offices in Manchester, Milton Keynes, Bristol and Newcastle. We typically work with boards, executives and investors of predominantly mid-sized organisations with a turnover of c£10m-£300m, helping clients analyse, develop and implement growth strategies. Also, we work with clients across a range of sectors including Financial Services, Technology, Outsourcing, Consumer and Retail, Property, Healthcare, Higher Education and Professional Services, including Corporate Finance and PE.