Vision statements: Do they make a difference?

Last updated on July 8th, 2019 at 10:52 pm

What is your company’s vision statement? Can you recite it at a moment’s notice? Does it inspire you?

Does it invoke the same relentless commitment to excellence that resides within the minds of Apple employees who say, “We may not know how we’re going to do it, but we will figure it out!” (versus “We can’t do that!”)

Bold visions inspire people to reach beyond their conventional capacity to achieve what hasn’t been done before.

Compare these pithy vision statements…

  • Amazon: “To be Earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”
  • Starbucks: “A third place between home and work.”
  • Google: “To provide access to the world’s information in one click.”

…to these verbose and rather vacant statements:

  • CBA Industries: “We are committed to achieving new standards of excellence by providing superior human capital management services and maximizing the potential of all stakeholders – clients, candidates and employees – through the delivery of the most reliable, responsive, flexible, and cost-effective services possible.”
  • Coca-Cola: “Our vision serves as the framework for our Roadmap and guides every aspect of our business by describing what we need to accomplish in order to continue achieving sustainable, quality growth.

People: Be a great place to work where people are inspired to be the best they can be.

Portfolio: Bring to the world a portfolio of quality beverage brands that anticipate and satisfy people’s desires and needs.

Partners: Nurture a winning network of customers and suppliers, together we create mutual, enduring value.

Planet: Be a responsible citizen that makes a difference by helping build and support sustainable communities.

Profit: Maximize long-term return to shareowners while being mindful of our overall responsibilities.

Productivity: Be a highly effective, lean and fast-moving organization.”

  • Gillette: “The Gillette Company’s Vision is to build Total Brand Value by innovating to deliver consumer value and customer leadership faster, better and more completely than our competition. This Vision is supported by two fundamental principles that provide the foundation for all of our activities: Organizational Excellence and Core Values. Attaining our Vision requires superior and continually improving performance in every area and at every level of the organization. Our performance will be guided by a clear and concise strategic statement for each business unit and by an ongoing Quest for Excellence within all operational and staff functions. This Quest for Excellence requires hiring, developing and retaining a diverse workforce of the highest caliber. To support this Quest, each function employs metrics to define, and implements processes to achieve, world-class status.”

The first three vision statements are concise and inspiring. They are lofty goals packaged to be tangible, actionable and repeatable.

Now, reread the last three vision statements. Can you repeat them? Are they inspiring? Do they ignite you to reach beyond the status quo, beyond your point of exhaustion, to achieve something big, meaningful and innovative?

Probably not.

Seems to me that corporate-speak check-mated common sense.

Gallup’s engagement research shows that 47 percent of employees are not engaged; they come to work, accomplish what they need to, but leave curiosity, creativity and innovative ideas at the door.

This is disheartening especially when you consider that people come to work wanting to make a difference. People want meaningful work. They will dig deep from within to make miracles happen. But igniting that flame requires an insightful leader who looks beyond the standard features and benefits, and communicates a bigger-than-life compelling message.

John F. Kennedy did exactly that with the Apollo space program. He rallied the collective genius of thousands of the most innovative and brilliant minds by packaging the space program as freedom from Soviet oppression and tyranny. His platform was built on the fear that if the Soviets landed on the moon first, America could fall victim to communism. People rallied to the call.

In 1983, Steve Jobs followed in Kennedy’s footsteps. He wasn’t selling the power of the computer to his employees, but leveraged their fears that market leader IBM, if not challenged, would control the computer universe. He called it a race between tyranny and freedom.

Jobs had committed to a roadshow for promoting the Macintosh computer. Like NASA, Apple faced an aggressive timeline. Jeffrey Young, author of “Steve Jobs: The Journey Is the Reward,” describes a conference call between Jobs and the production team that happened a week before the deadline: “Steve didn’t react with anger as they were all expecting. He started telling them how great they were, and how all of Apple was counting on them. Then he hung up before there was a chance to argue. Everyone in the conference room in Cupertino was stunned. They looked at one another. They were already exhausted, but Steve had done it again. They would make the deadline. He had challenged them to rise to the occasion, and he had chosen his people well. They wouldn’t let him down.”

Jobs knew that the impossible becomes possible when smart, dedicated people commit themselves to achieving a common goal. He understood that his role as THE leader was to “demand” excellence; to believe in the team more than they believed in themselves.

Jobs created evangelistic employees by painting a vision of Apple as the last company that could protect the masses from IBM’s “domination.” His vision at that time was “a computer in the hands of everyday people.”

His relentless commitment to excellence paid off as he turned wild and crazy ideas into successful innovations that continually enhance how we work, live and interact with one another.

Thank you, Steve!

Christine McMahon is a business strategist. She can be reached at (414) 290-3344 or by email at:

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