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Writing a Compelling Vision Statement

A vision statement is a vivid idealized description of a desired outcome that inspires, energizes and helps you create a mental picture of your target. It could be a vision of a part of your life, or the outcome of a project or goal.

In executive coaching scenarios, vision statements are often confused with mission statements, but they serve complementary purposes.

Vision Statement Guidelines

The best vision statements for result areas describe outcomes that are five to ten years away, although some look even further out. Life coaching can help you develop compelling and attractive vision statements.

For projects and goals, the vision statement should focus on the desired outcome of the project/goal at its completion date. Here are some guidelines for writing compelling and powerful vision statements.

Summarize Your Vision in a Powerful Phrase

If possible, try to summarize your vision using a powerful phrase in the first paragraph of your vision statement. Capturing the essence of your vision using a simple memorable phrase can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your vision statement. This phrase will serve as a trigger to the rest of the vision in the mind of everyone that reads it.

Take for instance Microsoft's vision of "A personal computer in every home running Microsoft software." This simple yet very powerful phrase can be used throughout the organization (hallways, internal web pages, plaques, etc.) to remind everyone of the vision.

If you are having trouble coming up with your summarizing phrase, try adding after you've written the rest of the vision statement.

Take as Much Space as You Need

Vision statements can be much longer than mission statements. The purpose is to create a mental picture charged with emotion that can serve to energize and inspire you and your team. Take as much space as you need to accomplish this goal.

Your Vision Statement Should Describe the Best Possible Outcome

In general, you should base your vision statements on the best possible outcome. In fact, you might want to envision something even better than what you consider to be the best possible outcome. Remember that the purpose of the vision statement is to inspire, energize, motivate, and stimulate your creativity, not to serve as a measuring stick for success; that is the job of your objectives and goals.

I once attended a training seminar where one of the exercises was to come up with as many ideas as we could for earning ten dollars by the end of the day. This was supposedly an exercise in brainstorming. After a few minutes, the instructor polled the audience for some of their ideas. Some ideas were better than others, but everyone agreed that even the bad ones could have earned someone ten dollars in a day.

The instructor then asked if any of the ideas presented so far could earn someone a million dollars. The consensus was that the vast majority of ideas had absolutely no chance to make anyone a million dollars, and a select few had only a very slim chance. At the end of the exercise, the instructor simply said, “You don’t get million dollar ideas from a ten dollar vision.”

In other words, the quality of your vision determines the creativity, quality and originality of your ideas and solutions. A powerful vision statement should stretch expectations and aspirations helping you jump out of your comfort zone.

Some people may object to the use of such an optimistic or unrealistic vision statement because others may consider it a failure when they fall short of the best possible outcome, even if they meet all the goals/objectives.

Unfortunately, this is a very valid concern in many organizations. If this is the case, you can still gain the benefits of a powerful and compelling vision statement by creating two versions: an idealized version to inspire and motivate, and a watered down "realistic" version that you can use as a target.

Just keep in mind that, back in the early 80's, Microsoft's vision of "a PC in every home running Microsoft software" would have been considered by most to be highly unrealistic.

I think it is safe to say that, even now, not every home has a PC in it and not every PC runs Microsoft software, but that doesn't mean Microsoft has failed! It just means they still have room for improvement.

Remember that the purpose of the vision statement is not to serve as a "real" target that you are going to measure against to determine if you have succeeded or failed. You should use your goals and objectives to do that. Instead, the purpose of the vision statement is to open your eyes to what is possible.

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.” I believe this is true in many respects because while knowledge allows you to see things as they are, imagination allows you to see things as they could be.

When we become aware of what is possible, we begin to realize that dreams can be achieved, that challenges can be conquered, and that problems can be solved. In doing so we open up a completely new set of avenues and possibilities, which by itself is a tremendous source of passion and energy.

As Les Brown puts it, "Shoot for the moon! Even if you miss, you'll still be among the stars."

Describe Your Vision Statement in the Present Tense

Describe your vision statement in present tense as if you were reporting what you actually see, hear, think and feel after your ideal outcome was realized.

Make your Vision Statement Emotional

Your vision statement should describe how you will feel when the outcome is realized. Including an emotional payoff in your vision statement infuses it with passion and will make it even more compelling, inspiring, and energizing.

Add Sensory Details to Your Vision Statement

The more sensory details you can provide, the more powerful your statement becomes. Describe the scenes, colors, sounds, and shapes. Describe who is there and what everyone is doing. These sensory details will help you build a more complete and powerful mental image of your ideal outcome.

Have questions related to writing a vision statement? Want help, advice, or feedback for a vision statement you are developing?

Inner vs. Outer Vision Statements

When creating vision statements it is often useful to separate the inner and outer aspects. This is particularly true for vision statements related to your life areas, and less important for project/goal vision statements.

An outer vision statement refers to your physical sensory experience (what you would see, hear, do, etc.). An inner vision statement refers to your internal thoughts, emotions and feelings.

In a business setting, you can think of outer vision statements as the way you would like "outsiders" such as your customers, suppliers and the community to view and behave towards your company. An inner vision statement would describe the way you would like your employees, owners and other insiders to view your company.

While developing the Achieve goal setting software, we decided to include the concepts of inner vs. outer vision statements at the result area level, but not for the project vision in project plans.

Share Your Vision Statements

Do you have a vision statement that you want to share? Add it to the vision statement samples page.

Updating Your Vision Statement

Since vision statements are usually focused on the long-term, they don't have to be updated or reviewed as frequently as mission statements.

My personal preference is to review vision statements at least once a month. You can also review them whenever you need a jolt of inspiration or an energy recharge.

A quarterly review is also an excellent time to determine if your vision statement is still describing the ideal outcome you want for each result area.

Sometimes you will find that your vision can remain consistent with what you want for a long time, and other times you have an epiphany and have to rewrite your statement from scratch.

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