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Does your company have a dream?


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If employees are even aware of their company’s vision, they often say they don’t understand it—in spite of the fact that most CEOs say that they have a clear vision and often talk it up to employees. Vision, along with mission and values, provide the road map that drives teamwork, engagement and performance; and yet these three elements are an endless source of corporate confusion.

Too frequently, the terms are used interchangeably, expressed poorly and widely ignored—after a well-meaning team spends hours defining them in elegant corporate speak. If your vision, mission and values statements don’t have a dotted line between them, and if they don’t roll off the tongue and stick in everyone’s mind, go back to the drawing board. It’s critical to your business growth. Your vision, mission and values should be clear, connected and constantly communicated.

Vision: “Where do I see my company going in the future?”

A vision statement is what your company aspires to be in the future, with the future being anywhere from three to 100 years out or more. It should reflect your goals and values, without stating them precisely. It should inspire and excite employees and serve as the platform for your growth. Your vision has an internal focus and outlines what you want your company to be in an ideal world.

There are differences of opinion about how you should frame a vision. Some say your vision should be purely aspirational and unattainable, a big idea—even a wild, crazy idea—that everyone in the company can get behind and drive toward, but not actually hope to achieve. With this philosophy, your vision never changes. The opposing, and more common, view is that your vision should be challenging, but realistic and attainable. It should be dynamic and flexible, changing as your strategic goals change.

Personally, I agree with Douglas Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup, who describes himself as an “idealist-realist,” believing that idealism and realism in combination are the two leadership attributes that both inspire and mobilize people to bring a vision to life.

Amazon’s statement is a good model: “Our vision is to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

A truly great vision positively affects your strategic decision making; builds alignment and commitment throughout your organization; promotes desired behaviors and actions; and influences your culture. It also helps you attract and retain top talent. Start by creating your vision statement and then craft your mission.

Mission: “Why does my company exist?”

Your mission statement defines your purpose and what you will do to execute on your vision. It tells what you do, who you serve and how you create value. While your vision is broad and future oriented, your mission should be present-focused, specific and tactical—providing clear focus and direction. It stretches and challenges you. A mission statement is focused both internally and externally, telling your customers, employees and suppliers what your business is all about and what makes you stand out in the marketplace.

In order to fit in all that information, mission statements are frequently a paragraph or two long. Although they should be specific, I think the best mission statements are short enough for people to remember. The Starbucks mission says all it needs to say in a single sentence: "Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time."

For more insight on the “why,” check out Simon Sinek’s TED talk and book, Start with Why.

Values: “How do we want to conduct business?”

Values are your moral and ethical compass, reflecting what you believe is most important and serving as the foundation for all of your decisions. They underlie your vision, mission, policies and actions and should dictate how you treat all of your constituents, including: employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers and the broader community; and how you create and deliver products. They should be both stated and operational at all times—and they should rarely, if ever, change.

If your values are stated in simple, behavioral language, people will not only remember them, but understand what living them means. WOW! Internet Cable and Phone, a model company in so many ways, is a perfect example of what I mean. Here are their values:

  • Courage: Act on your beliefs with pure intention in spite of your fears.
  • Respect: Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  • Integrity: Choose to do what’s right.
  • Accountability: Own your part of any situation and work towards a solution.
  • Servanthood: Embrace the attitude and honor of serving others rather than being served.

Every business starts with a dream. Don’t get caught in semantics and confusion. Take time to put the proper thought and energy into articulating your vision, mission and values and use them to boost employee engagement and drive business success.

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is CEO of TalenTrust. Her first book, Solve the People Puzzle; How High-Growth Companies Attract and Retain Top Talent, debuts in February 2016. She speaks to CEOs about trends in talent and how to be strategic in developing a people strategy. Kathleen serves on the Advisory Board for Colorado Companies to Watch, and she is a current Board Member and former Board President of ACG-Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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