In many organizations, the vision statement is viewed as the holy grail. Organizations spend big dollars, time, and energy to create a vision statement. Throw in some mission and value statements and the organization can seemingly conquer the universe and restore order to the galaxy. What happens as a result of this hard work?

Unfortunately, not much.

The problem with vision statements

Most visions sound brilliant and inspiring … but mean almost nothing. The purpose of these statements is to explain the organization’s purpose, future state, and direction. However, they don’t tell you what it looks like or the plan for getting there.

Here’s an example: “To be a premier place to work, a source of pride and innovation, and provide emerging, cutting-edge products that revolutionizes the culinary industry.”

Sure, this vision statement has words that anyone organization would love to claim: “premier,” “pride,” “innovation,” “emerging,” “cutting edge,” and “revolutionize.” What, however, do these words mean to the organization? What do they look like in your daily work? How do you know if you’re achieving them?

Breaking down the vision statement

As an example, let’s take the first phrase from the vision: “To be a premier place to work.”

For one person, this could mean that every employee receives a company car. To another, that they get free manicures while they work. To another, that the breakroom is stocked with caviar and chardonnay.

And that’s where the problem lies: people don’t really know what it looks like for their organization to be a premier place to work.

Instead, imagine if there were specific, clear, and simple behaviors that demonstrated how to make the organization a “premier place to work”:

  • “We allow employees to set their own schedules.”
  • “We take ten minutes every day to reflect on our team’s wins.”
  • “We are encouraged to pitch at least one new idea to our bosses every week.”

Now the vision has some legs. Every employee, from CEO to field rep, can understand exactly what a premier place to work means and, more importantly, what they can do to make it a reality.

A vision statement is just the beginning

This doesn’t mean that the vision statement is completely useless or that you shouldn’t come up with one. It’s just that it’s important to realize that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Only having a vision statement is like saying that you’re excited to take a trip to Africa … and then not figuring out where you want to go, what you want to see, how you’re going to get there, and so on.

Of course, there are many more components to successfully implement a vision, mission, or values: communicating the details throughout the organization, ensuring follow-through, measuring success, and so on. I’ll get to these topics later, but for now, consider how you can go beyond the words and put the vision into practice.

Need some guidance on words that you might want to avoid? Look no further than Weird Al for some humorous insights (bonus points if you can guess the artist he’s parodying)!