Many of my clients struggle with vision, mission, and strategy. They tend to put good conceptual frameworks together, but have a difficult time taking vision and mission and making it a reality. Some of this comes from lack of buy with their people and organization. At other times, the vision and mission do not capture the true essence of what their company stands for, and what they want to achieve in the future.
Strong leaders understand that a powerful vision and mission energizes and galvanizes an organization. I’ve seen this most frequently in nonprofit organizations. Typically, many nonprofits do not have massive budgets or pursue large revenue goals. They usually employ many volunteers that want to serve the greater good. To inspire and motivate their organizations, nonprofit leaders must develop, and put into practice, vision and mission that sets the course for their organizations future.
In for profit organizations, vision and mission often sets the course for product development, sales and marketing, and strategic growth plans. CEOs and executive leadership teams need vision and mission that generates trust with the market, with investors, and with other constituencies in the external community. As with nonprofits, vision and mission also helps to focus and drive the efforts of employees. When employees understand what the organization stands for, and what its primary goals and objectives are, they are more likely to achieve better outcomes and business results.
In working with clients across various industries, I’ve come to identify six key characteristics that separate the design and implementation of good vision from poor ones.
- Identifying What the Organization Stands for: The starting point of a power vision and mission is all about identifying what you want your organization to stand for. Are you looking to be the leader in a specific industry? Do you want to develop superior products and services? Is there a certain demographic that you want focus on? Identifying what the focus of the organization will be begins to outline the mission of the company. Once the mission has been determined, leaders can quickly begin to tie this to a vision for the organization.
- Outlining Core Values and Beliefs: Next, it is important to outline a company’s core values. What do you want your organization to be known for? Excellent customer service? Integrity and fidelity? Innovation? The growth and development of people? As a leader of any organization, you must work with your top people to put in place the values and beliefs that employees should adhere to. This sets the course for how organizational members will interact with one another, and with the external environment (e.g., customers, partners, shareholders).
- Looking to the Future: A powerful vision focuses on the future. Where do you want to see the organization grow in the next 3-5 years? How do you want to be known in the market over time? Focusing on the future gives people hope. It helps them identify where the business is headed. Leaders that look to the future create a powerful energy and enthusiasm with their people. They help employees understand the direction that the organization will take as time evolves.
- Seeking Buy-In and Support from Organizational Members: A strong vision and mission has the buy-in and support of important stakeholders. This starts at the top of the house. When CEOs partner with boards of directors and their executive leadership teams to roll-out a vision and mission for the organization, they gain the greatest traction. Giving people the ability to offer input helps them feel that they played a vital part in the development of the vision and mission. When this works best, leaders will bring initial ideas to their teams, and have them provide feedback and suggestions to make improvements.
- Consistently Reinforcing the Vision and Mission: Once a vision and mission has been put in place, strong leaders consistently reinforce it with their people. They make sure that employees understand how their roles directly connect to the overarching objectives of the organization. This step is critical in for profit and nonprofit companies. When a leader takes the time to consistently deliver the right messages to their people, the business tends to thrive.
- Making Adjustments as the Organization Grows: Vision and mission needs to evolve over time. What worked for a start-up will not work for an organization in year four or five. Leaders must be willing to go back to the whiteboard every couple of years to make adjustments as the organization grows, and as the external environment changes. When leaders adjust their vision and mission, they re-energize their people. They give people a new focus and drive commitment to the vision and mission.
Good leaders understand the power of vision and mission. They know that without it, their organization will inevitably struggle and fail. That’s because a strong vision and mission brings people together, gives them a collective purpose, and sets the course for the future. Follow the six steps outlined above to create vision and mission that will drive your organization forward.
Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D. is an Associate Client Partner at Korn Ferry/Hay Group, the preeminent authority on leadership and talent.
Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.