Why You Need A Vision
Let’s step back for a moment from the practical and expedient steps that mark an
entrepreneurial company’s formation and wear a philosophical hat to examine the deeper
motives that drive entrepreneurs toward building companies. As we all know, and surely
realize, many people often have lofty ideas and sets lofty goals. There is a greater purpose in
much we do, even though it is not always or immediately apparent. Much of what we do can
appear to be a response to a variety of situations, but historians and philosophers often see a
grand, mighty purpose—a grand mission and a vision—in much of human endeavors.
Before we dig deep into our “selves” and into our entrepreneurial pursuits to see what greater
motive lies underneath, it might be a good idea to understand why we need to undertake this
exercise at all. Why is it important to recognize our mission, vision and values? How can this
help our entrepreneurial companies?
Even if we were, for a moment, to overlook the larger philosophical purpose, such an
exercise has enormous practical benefits. A vision statement, for example, projects a simple,
elegant and still lofty goal for the company—something that will stand the test of time.
Microsoft, for example, projected the vision of a PC on every desk, obviously running the
company’s software. It certainly was not a vision that was going to be realized anytime soon.
Not even today, over 25 years after Microsoft was born, is that vision real. But is a grand
vision that has stood the passage of time.
Similarly, Cisco revealed a vision of connecting every PC to another. These are stunning
statements that inspire investors, employees and consumers alike. So there is great value in
“discovering” our true goal and articulating it in simple terms, much like a great tag line in a
commercial. Only, this one is long-lasting and likely to be synonymous with the company. If
employees and management alike lived by it, then the vision statement has been worth the
Now that we know the true potential of a vision statement—and indeed the mission
statement—the question is: How do we go about identifying these goals and articulating them
for the rest of the world?
A vision statement is the first, and most
powerful, of a series of three statements that outline the overall purpose of a company. Vision
statements are crafted to identify a single over-arching goal of our range of activities.
Typically, a company produces one or more products or offers a range of services. Good
companies with a clear vision tend to undertake those activities that resonate with that goal.
Conversely, a company’s activities can all be traced back to a common goal, which is its
vision. This happens because companies examine all new ideas for expansion against the
prism of their vision to make sure they are in line with the company’s larger goal. To take the
previous example of Microsoft, any new software it produces is in line with its vision. Or in
the case of Cisco, any computer networking product or software it creates is in line with its
vision. One would rarely see these companies do anything else.
Here are some key steps toward preparing a vision statement:
1. Great Leaders Show the Way. Good leadership is all about showing the way.
Entrepreneurs need to provide inspiring leadership. They need to recognize this and work
their way to a vision.
2. Introspect. Ask yourself a number of questions to understand what you are doing and
why. Why did I start this company? What do I really do for my customers? What is the
ultimate goal of my enterprise?
3. Don’t Be Modest. Often, entrepreneurs might be shy of setting or expressing a goal that
might look too lofty. I am sure even Bill Gates may not have set his grand vision of having a
PC running Microsoft software on every desk when Microsoft was a struggling startup. A
vision statement is not an immediate goal. Think of it as a dream. Even if it is never attained,
it is worth cherishing.
4. Brainstorm: You can’t really sit in your ivory tower and come up with a vision for the
company. It takes much more than that. It requires discussions and debates, and exchange of
ideas. Many entrepreneurs organize workshops in which co-founders, investors, employees
and even consumers contribute their ideas. These thoughts can be “distilled” to create a grand
vision for the company.
5. What the Company Does. Many times, what the company should be or provide offers a
vision. For example, an organic food company could state it will “supply healthy food to all,”
as its vision. A hospital chain could consider the vision: “Best health-care for all regardless of
A vision statement reveals a future; a mission statement defines a purpose. A company’s
mission statement provides a rationale for its very existence. To better understand the
concept, let’s look at some mission statements.
“Organize the world’s information.”
“To solve unsolved problems innovatively.”
“To preserve and improve human life.”
“To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people.”
“To make people happy.”
“We want to be the best service organization in the world.”
“We dedicate ourselves to humanity’s quest for longer, healthier, happier lives through
innovation in pharmaceutical, consumer and animal health products.”
“With the power of direct and Dell’s team of talented people, we are able to provide
customers with superb value; high-quality, relevant technology; customized systems; superior
service and support; and products and services that are easy to buy and use.”
“We will produce outstanding financial returns by providing totally reliable, competitively
superior, global, air-ground transportation of high-priority goods and documents that
require rapid, time-certain delivery.”
As the above examples suggest, mission statements lay out a goal—a specific goal. Note how
it is different from the vision statement. Let’s take the example of Google. Its mission is to
“organize the world’s information.” Its mission might be a world in which information is
perfectly organized. Similarly, Disney’s mission is “to make people happy;” its vision might
be “to create a happy world.”
A mission statement is a clear and precise description why the company exists in business. It
often is a pledge. Like Google’s, it can set an agenda; or like Merck’s or Wal-Mart’s it can be
a promise. Note that Dell Computers and FedEx have more elaborate mission statement than
most others. It is not necessary that a mission statement should be a one-liner, or a short
phrase. What is more important is that it is truly in line with the company’s goal and values,
and lays a path for all its employees.
Mission statements can include social goals and set an ethical position, or differentiate itself
from competitors. A general rule is to avoid self-praise or a comment on the company’s
product or service standard. It is enough to set that goal, as IBM does in seeking to be “the
best service organization in the world.” Note that it doesn’t claim to be the best.
Typically, a mission statement can be divided into three major components:
1. Company’s Aim
2. Business’ Description
3. How It Serves Consumers
How does one come up with a mission statement?
Many consultants provide this service. By interacting closely with the entrepreneur or
management team, consultants can help you organize your thoughts and discover your
innermost goals, which can then be expressed in a precise manner in the form of a mission
statement. Companies like Franklin Covey provide a “mission builder” online
http://www.franklincovey.com/msb/ —a software program that guides you by asking a series
of probing questions before offering a suitable statement.