“A computer on every desk”
The year was 1975 and a new company was about to be born. At the time, their vision statement was nothing but ambitious - “A computer on every desk and in every home”. That was the vision statement of Microsoft.
While back in 1975, that statement was ambitious - to say the least- it still created one of the most successful companies in the world.
So how do you go about creating a vision statement as powerful as the one Microsoft had?
It's very easy to mix purpose and vision. So let’s start by defining each of these concepts:
Purpose - this is the “why”. Why a company, product, or feature exists. It’s aspirational and persists through the existence of the company, product, or feature.
Vision - this is the “what”. What will the world look like once we execute the mission that serves our purpose? A vision statement should answer that question!
Mission - this is the “how”. How will the company deliver its vision? What are the concrete steps that the company is taking to deliver its vision and fulfill its purpose?
Mixing up these concepts can be problematic. For a long time, Microsoft believed its purpose of existence to be “a computer on every desk and in every home”. When that statement became a reality, Microsoft realized that this was their vision, not their purpose
A way to start is to approach it almost like a prophetic statement. Microsoft did just that, with their powerful vision statement, they were providing the world a glimpse of the future – where all offices and homes had computers – even though they did not make computers at the time, and most people saw little need for them. This was a very powerful company-wide vision statement, that defined the world that Microsoft was working to build. A well-crafted vision statement needs to align with your purpose and mission.
A great vision statement should embed itself in all aspects of a company. That is why your vision statement must align with your core values and culture. Otherwise, your strategic planning will not work.
Finally, all vision statements should have a time horizon in mind. Having one makes it easier to separate it from your purpose. Every once in a while, the company needs to review progress and question if it still makes sense. As the world changes around you, so should the world you envision as a result of your work.
Microsoft's vision statement aligned with the company's mission, core values, and culture. It took them more than 25 years to realize it, but they did get there. This does not mean that they actually got a computer with Windows on every desk, yet, their contribution to making computers widely accessible is unquestionable. That is what a good vision statement can do for your company.
There is no clear template for writing a great vision statement. But, if go through enough of these, some common traits start to appear:
They are daring, but not generic - “delivering an exceptional experience” applies equally to a supermarket, an insurance company, and a user application.
They are clear and short - a good vision statement is memorable, easy to articulate, and provides clarity over one primary goal. Short and clear vision statements are easier to remember.
They have a time horizon but are stable - use a time goal to measure progress and question the validity of your vision statement. Yet, resist the urge to change it if progress is too slow.
They are ambitious - when creating a vision statement you should not worry about practicality. You can break down a single goal into smaller goals, that’s where strategy and execution come in.
They tell you what the world will be, not how you’ll get there - vision statements paint a picture of how you want the world to be, not how you will make it to be. Don’t mix up your mission statement and vision statement.
The vision statement is a foundation for the company’s strategic direction for years to come, so, take your time to write it. Remember, it should be stable.
Here are some examples that go to show that a vision statement is much more than a sentence below a brand logo. If done correctly, it can be the driving force for an entire organization.
“A world without poverty.” This is a great example of an ambitious, daring, clear, and short vision statement. Easy to remember and paints a clear picture of how they want the world to be. It’s next to impossible not to get inspired and motivated by their vision.
“Becoming the best global entertainment distribution service”. Some may argue that Netflix’s current existential crisis comes from achieving its vision. Similarly to Microsoft, you may be left wondering "what now?".
“To be the world’s most trusted airline”. This is a great example of an ambitious vision. With this vision, Delta can create goals that ensure alignment throughout the company. Operations need to focus on punctuality, frontline workers need to offer great customer experience, etc. A vision statement should mean something to everyone in the company. And, all employees should understand how their work contributes to achieving the vision.
“Create the most compelling car company of the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles". This is a great example of a company that has to some extent achieved its vision. If you go back 10 years, how many people you know owned an electric car?
“To help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.” Microsoft's current vision statement has expanded from its original one. The current vision statement allows Microsoft to get into several different areas, as they are focused on realizing people's and businesses' full potential. This allows the company to offer cloud services, augmented reality wearables, productivity tools, and everything in between.
These are just some examples that you can follow. Some companies, like Microsoft, benefit from having a vision statement from their inception, but it’s perfectly acceptable not to commit to one specific vision immediately. While a company's vision statement should be stable, don’t be afraid to change it if it stops feeling right.
“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," was what United States President John F. Kennedy told a crowd at Rice University in Houston more than 60 years ago. A great vision statement is clear, ambitious, has a time horizon, and is memorable. It rallies everyone to pursue a common goal. It supports and is supported by, a purpose, culture, and values that everyone understands and accepts. That is the power of a great vision statement.