People’s views about Vision statements vary widely. Those organisations that spend hours of executive time crafting them must clearly subscribe to the view expressed by one of spy novelist, John Le Carre’s characters who was wont to say – “visions are like the stars; we cannot reach them but we are inspired by their presence”. In contrast, Eileen Shapiro in her excellent book – Fad Surfing in the Boardroom – defines a Vision statement as:
What Moses experienced when he wandered for too long in the desert; coordinated and persistent hallucinations characteristic of dementia and paranoid schizophrenia
My own view is closer to that of Eileen Shapiro’s. What’s the purpose of them? Presumably to inspire theiraudience with a call to action. But who are they targeted at? It can’t be the customer – most organisations do not publicise their Vision externally. Perhaps it’s the shareholders – do they feel comforted by the Vision statement in the Annual Report? Do they think that a company with a Vision statement is better run than one without? What about an organisation’s suppliers? Do they have a preference for dealing with customers that have a Vision statement? I doubt it.
No – my perception is that they are targeted at the organisation’s employees in a largely futile attempt to achieve greater employee engagement – to enhance the employee’s emotional connection to the organisation that results in greater discretionary effort. The problem is that they are just words and on my hierarchy of influence, words are way behind “actions” as a way to positively influence attitudes and behaviour. Indeed in a disturbing number of cases there is such a gulf between the lofty Vision and the reality that the Vision statement becomes a symptom of the credibility gap that separates executive management and the rest of an organisation’s employees.
My guess is that the only group who get excited by a Vision statement is the group of executives that created it in the first place – those that spent hours of debate over the nuances of each and every word.
I have a little more time for Mission statements providing they are simply a summary of the organisation’s activities, the markets they serve and the products and services they provide. Yet all too often they meet Eileen Shapiro’s definition.
- A short, specific statement of purpose, intended to serve as a loose musical score that motivates everyone to play the same tune without strict supervision;
- Frequently, an assertion of underlying commitment to some amalgam of “total quality”, “low-cost producer”, “empowered workforce”, “excellence”, “continuous improvement” and other bizbuz shibboleths that, although written for a specific organisation, are equally applicable to an aircraft manufacturer, a software development firm, a community hospital, a department store chain, or a local dry cleaner;
- In some companies, a talisman, hung in public spaces, to ward off evil spirits.
Don’t you love it?
The only thing I really have time for are Values … but that’s the subject of another blog.