Seven Tips on How to Build and Communicate an Organization’s Vision
By Stephen Dupont, APR, Fellow PRSA
On September 12, 1962, in a speech given at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy put forth a vision of the future that inspired generations to come:
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
In the years since, we have been challenged by other visions, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of equity for people of color in a world dominated by systemic white supremacy to Elon Musk’s vision of colonizing Mars by 2050.
Is Your Organization’s Vision Visionary?
Many organizations have vision statements. But, based on my observation, often these statements feel more like big goals or feel-good statements posted on a website or in an employee handbook that often go ignored by employees and customers.
Why? Because they don’t really convey a sense of the future.
A vision describes a preferred future – an actual desired state of change that an organization or group of people are working toward bringing about.
When you or your organization thinks about the future, I think it’s important to consider that there are many possibly futures, some probable futures, and the future we desire. For example, I invite you to look at your own life and career – as you work toward your vision of the “perfect life” or the “career of your dreams,” you also may come to understand that there are many other scenarios for where you may be in 10, 20 or 30 years from now. The same is true for organizations, governments and movements.
So, in communicating a vision for an organization, a movement or a leader, it’s important to ask:
“Is our vision an actual vision or is it just a goal?”
“Have we considered other futures and does our vision reflect the desired future that we want?”
To this second question, I would encourage your organization’s leadership to work with a professional futurist or strategic foresight professional, to clearly understand your organization’s vision – or to revisit a current vision statement to confirm your organization’s commitment to it.
For example, I was invited to help a nonprofit spiritual retreat center revisit its vision and mission statement about 20 years after it was founded. The retreat center, a collaborative effort between a Catholic religious order and the local Episcopal church wondered if it had truly lived up to its ecumenical vision. After numerous interviews, I concluded that this nonprofit was ready to expand the box of its vision and welcome all – not just Catholics or Episcopalians, but other Christian and non-Christian faith traditions to share in its unique, transformative retreat experience.
The value of a vision
As you take a closer look at your organization’s vision statement, it’s important to consider the value of having a vision. When Space X says it seeks to “Make Humanity Multiplanetary” it’s offering a vision that goes beyond making rockets that will take humans to the Moon or Mars. That’s a vision that provides clarity for every person who works there and their individual decisions. Vision, along with purpose, is what today’s workers, as well as customers, seek in organizations.
An April 12, 2017 article, “Firm of the Future,” written by a number of senior consultants for the management consulting firm Bain & Company, noted: “Many of these younger employees, along with many older ones, also want to work for a company that pursues a higher purpose in addition to profits. CEOs have become acutely sensitive to this concern; in conversation after conversation with leaders, we are struck by how quickly the talk moves to how a company can engage and inspire team members with a vision of making a difference in the world.”
So how should you communicate your organization’s vision? Here are several tips to consider:
Use storytelling to help people understand your vision – While representing a trucking company, we identified people within the trucking company, including drivers, whose stories conveyed “a trucking company that was changing trucking.”
Create a visual image – The vision of the first person walking on the Moon or the vision of cleaning up the giant garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean are crystal clear.
Avoid the vague; be bold – A vision that says, “we intend to improve the lives of our customers” is like saying, “the sun will rise tomorrow.” Vision statements call for boldness and they call for looking beyond the horizon that everyone else can see to the horizons that will emerge 10, 20 or 30 years from now.
Communicate the impact of the vision – When an organization says its vision is to eliminate cancer from the face of the Earth, it’s saying: “We intend to put ourselves out of business.”
Map a path to how you will achieve and measure it – Stating a vision without stating how your organization intends to reach the vision are empty words. Leaders need to involve employees at all levels to map out a plan to achieve the vision.
Create vision ambassadors – Effective leaders identify internal influencers to share the vision with others throughout the organization. Similarly, they invite external influencers to serve as ambassadors for the vision to help reach key stakeholder groups.
The medium is the message – If leaders want to project a desired future, then they should consider using the latest technology, such as virtual reality, to help employees, customers, investors or other stakeholders better comprehend the organization’s vision for the future.
The Bottom Line: For professional communicators, vision statements provide a focused sense of direction that can inform all communications, internal and external. Don’t overlook your organization’s vision statement. If it seems off, or is too vague, or isn’t bold enough, make it a strategic priority to change it.
Stephen Dupont, APR, Fellow PRSA, is vice president of public relations and branded content with the Minneapolis creative firm Pocket Hercules (pockethercules.com). Dupont writes and speaks frequently about futures mindset and foresight. To learn more about Dupont, visit his blog, stephendupont.co, or contact him through LinkedIn.