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shutterstock_94813702In their book, “Built to Last, Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” Collins and Porras found “companies that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to the changing world. The dynamics of preserving the core while stimulating progress is the reason that companies such as Hewlett-Packard, 3M, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Merck, Sony, Motorola, and Nordstrom became elite institutions able to renew themselves and achieve superior long-term performance.” Collins and Porras found that these companies, and those like them, have outperformed the general stock market by a factor of 12 since 1925.

How Corporate Vision fits with Corporate Objectives

Corporate vision is what provides a long view; a plumb line to reference in all decision making. If the vision is aimed at the greater good, all business objectives will be guided by those tenets and act as guidelines within which the business must operate. Consequently, business objectives should always be subject to the boundaries of the vision. That means the vision should be carefully thought through at the highest levels of the organization and articulated with crystal clarity. Often a facilitator skilled in this area is needed to offer perspective.

What makes for a terrific (or horrific) corporate vision?

Vision statements should not be long or complicated. Too many times I’ve walked into company lobbies to see a plaque on the wall with three paragraphs of “mice-type” under a bold headline “Our Vision.”

What makes for a great corporate vision? I decided to reach out to a few leading brands to provide examples of solid vision statements that bridged the gap between business and customer objectives. Instead of clear vision, what I found (for the most part) were horrifyingly ham-fisted collections of words thrown together into heaps of nonsense.  Few of them were well written. And the meaning of them was often even worse.

Let’s Grade Some Vision Statements

Keep in mind that a good vision statement is one that balances the health of the business, the customer relationship, and the greater good of society.

HP: A++

“Human Progress”

This one blows my mind. I don’t believe I have heard two words together that have resonated more deeply. Like chest-rumbling summer thunder in the distance, these words communicate on a visceral level. The HP Brand Strategy website continues, “Brand strategy is the connection between our business goals, our marketing tactics and our company’s soul — turning theories and ideas into tangible actions that build the brand we want customers and other audiences to experience when they think of HP.” Wow. These guys get it.

Virgin Atlantic: B

Our vision is to contribute to creating happy and fulfilling lives which are also sustainable.”

This vision statement is directionally valid because it speaks to improving the quality of life of people, and not the company. In order for a corporate vision statement to endure just about any external force, it should speak to what it’s endeavoring to do for the world, not just for itself. With this sustaining energy, the brand can transform to adapt to anything in the future because it’s not product based, market based, or even industry based. It’s about making people’s lives better, no matter what business they’re on. Virgin started as a record store. Now it has more than 50 branded companies in businesses as diverse as space travel, wine, and charities. To founder Richard Branson, it’s all about the experience – making people happy with sustainable living. I must admit, though, it could be a little more focused, and better written.

Pearson Education: F-

“To fulfil the educational needs across a spectrum of individuals with reliable experience and technology.”
(source: http://www.pearsoneducationservices.com/visionmission.php)

Even if you could forgive the spelling error (it was published on their website), the syntax indicates that Pearson’s target is a segment of people with reliable experience and technology. I don’t think that’s what they really meant. It’s one thing to get the purpose and focus of the vision statement wrong – it’s a whole different level of brand neglect to post something this important on a corporate website with incorrect spelling and syntax errors. And OMG, from an education company? Seriously?

Microsoft C+

“Create experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of Internet services across a world of devices.”
(source: Seattle Times, blog by Benjamin J. Romano, September 8, 2008)

(delivered by COO Kevin Turner at a buzz event, circa 2008)
Updated from the former original Bill Gates and Paul Allen vision of, “A computer on every desk,” neither of these statements are very altruistic in their service to mankind. But then again, I guess Gates was pretty good at separating his philanthropy from his juggernauts, waiting until after the corporate rat race was behind him to get all humane and everything.

B-  Walmart:

To promote ownership of Walmart’s ethical culture to all stakeholders globally.
(source: http://www.ask.com/question/wal-mart-s-vision-statement)

This is less of a vision statement than an internal cultural objective. At any rate, I didn’t downgrade this one too much because it speaks to ethical treatment of stakeholders and not to its own capitalistic interests and because it’s supported by values of being fair, having integrity, respecting others and embracing diversity.

Get the picture?

The vision should be in the service of people first while balanced with the corporate health. That’s what makes brands sustainable. And that’s why you’ve got to start with a really grounded vision before you can focus your corporate goals, objectives, and strategies. Take a look at your vision, does it pass the “vision test?”

  • Speaks to how the brand will make life better for people
  • Implies how the brand will sustain its business continuity and economics
  • Is short enough for every employee and customer to internalize and evangelize

What’s your idea of a great corporate vision? I’ll grade it for you 😉