Why are so many vision statements rubbish?

This is probably the 10,001th article on the topic of jargon-laden, by-committee, not-worth-the-paper-they-are-written-on, vision statements.

Which begs the question: if everyone knows that too many vision statements are rubbish, why do people keep writing them like that? And why do the legion of consultants who are often in the mix aid and abet people in doing it?

You know the ones I mean. Interchangeable, mean-nothing collections of words that wouldn’t inspire an excited toddler, let alone a group of overstretched adults to embark on any kind of quest. There are even online applications these days that will help you “find the right words” and do it for you. Terrifying.

I’ll leave aside the whole vision-versus-mission-versus-purpose discussion. This could just as easily apply to any of them. So for purposes here think of vision as a placeholder for “inspirational business statement”.

How did we get here?

The literal “how did we get here” history of the vision statement is something I’m working on and I’ll come back will a blog dedicated to that soon. Today I’m talking about the modern incarnation meant as a kind of ‘flag on the hill’ to harness the endeavor of a group in its direction.

The more lateral answer to the “how did we get here” I think lives in trying not to bother anyone. Because deep in the meaningless word soup of most visions is a deep attempt not to upset, annoy or offend. It’s why people use five words instead one. It’s why words that make people feel are avoided as unprofessional (whatever that means).

It’s why what may have started out well, finishes a shadow of itself in service to the consensus of the group – something I’ll call the ‘consensus trap’. And the ‘consensus trap’ is where too many vision statements get stuck.

The only way to avoid the consensus trap is to lose the fear of bothering people. First, chances are if you’re upsetting someone you’re doing something right. This of course isn’t a call to deliberately be offensive. However, when you combine what you sincerely care about doing, with some language off the beaten path, you’ll likely upset someone.

People hate things that make them uncomfortable. But uncomfortable is just what your vision should make that group you’re trying to harness the endeavor of. It should feel a bit scary. It should make you feel – something. Hey, anything would be a start.

Next, lose the committee. You’re the leader – lead. Place that flag and stand on the hill with a clarion cry to others to scramble up the incline and join you. There are plenty of places in business where consensus is a great thing. And yes it is important the others feel like they are part of the endeavor. There are plenty of places and ways to do that. I’d argue that inviting them into a group think session on vision is not one of them.

So start today. Take a look at your vision (or whatever) statement. Don’t have one – why not? How do you feel when you read it? Roused, with a side of terrified – great. Or is it more numb, with a side of who cares – there’s the rubbish of the headline.

If it’s the latter then throw out the committee (and the consultant), go find a hill (a literal one isn’t a bad idea) and take a stand. Then shout out to your people to come and join you – they will.

Because while no one was ever moved to go up that hill by “to be the X for Y by doing Z”. But plenty will scramble skinned knees and all to be part of something real. Something with heart. Something that annoys, terrifies and yes, inspires.

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


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5 years ago

This article is rubbish.