When I’m asked to recite a good vision statement, I say the Smithsonian’s,
“Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.”
But when someone asks me to recite a bad vision statement, I say this one,
“We inspire bright minds to help fuel world progress.”
Why is this one so bad? Here’s what that bad vision statement caused.
Words have power
I worked for the company that had the vision, “We inspire bright minds to help fuel world progress,” and those words had power. The company’s vision was being acted out every day, but not always in a good way.
Inspire bright minds
When I started working there, I was surprised to learn how much we spent on testing new, unproven technology, training and development programs that were sparsely attended, and frequent corporate-wide events and celebrations at the best venues.
Of course, I wanted to work there because the company was known as a great place to work with generous compensation. But I also wanted to be one of those inspired, bright minds.
Just keep the lights on
But all that spending and enthusiasm was squashed when market forces and an ill-conceived acquisition changed the company from an industry leader into one of the biggest losers. The company began bleeding more money than its peers, and something had to be done.
The first program cut was leadership development, quickly followed by nearly every other training program. Next came salaries and benefits, followed by all those big events and celebrations. Then, projects were cancelled in favor of focusing the meager, remaining resources on efficient (cheap) operations.
Although the changes were necessary, drastic changes disconnect people from an organization because social anchors are eroded. And that’s what happened. Many of the highest performing employees were lured to the competition and soon the company was known to have the highest employee turnover in its peer group.
From bad to worse
Today, the company still has a pulse, but morale is at an all-time low. Not surprisingly, it also has a new vision. Gone are the “bright minds” and inspiration.
But the new vision is one of the most uninspiring I’ve seen. It’s so bad that I use it as an example of what not to do! Here it is,
“To be the energy company of choice for investors, staff and stakeholders.”
Getting a vision statement wrong
When we get a vision statement wrong two things happen,
- we create and support behavior that can ruin our organizations
- we disengage our workforce when we have to change the vision
Anatomy of a bad vision statement
Let’s dissect, “We inspire bright minds to help fuel world progress.”
“We inspire . . .”
Unless every single employee co-created the vision and lives that vision every day, saying “we” means that the leaders are committing to inspiring those bright minds. Employees who don’t feel inspired can now blame their leaders.
“. . . bright minds. . .”
Who are those bright minds? Often, when one of my co-worker’s ideas or proposal was rejected in favor of someone else’s, the comment was “I guess I’m not one of those bright minds.” Phrases like bright minds are often interpreted as only applying to the boss’s favorites or as elitist and cliquey.
“. . . to help fuel world progress.”
Grandiose statements like this fall flat with the workforce and the public. Isn’t everyone in your peer group helping? If you’re not just helping but are fueling world progress, then you better be huge! It’s best to avoid these statements.
It’s much easier to dissect the vision statement that followed: “To be the energy company of choice for investors, staff and stakeholders.”
First, doesn’t every company want to be the company of choice? I hope so. Second, investors, staff and stakeholders are just about anyone who might care about an energy company. All this makes me wonder, why have a vision statement at all?
Let’s create a better vision statement
Crafting a vision statement that engages your workforce and also creates and supports desired behavior is tough. But almost anyone can do better than the statements I’ve just dissected.
Let’s combine their attempt at inspiration from their first vision statement with the somber frugality from their second into a new, better vision for that company. How about this,
“We create shareholder value through efficient operations, prudent growth and responsible investment in our workforce, new technology and the communities where we operate.”
Maybe this first try isn’t good enough, but I think it’s better than their first two statements.
From vision to mission to action
A vision statement, whether it’s for your company or for you, changes behavior. In an upcoming article, I’ll discuss how we move from vision to mission and then to action. My personal vision, “Contributing to wellbeing by writing and speaking about a better world of work,” enabled me to develop my mission, and then begin helping people create a deeply meaningful working life and build thriving organizations.
Have you heard some really good or really bad vision statements? Let me know. Please leave a comment below or message me on social media. You can connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Also, please share this article and subscribe to the Work Feels Good blog to read more.