Why you should have TWO Vision Statements
Writing a vision statement
I recently did a Strategy Intensive with a client. One of her goals was to walk out with a written vision statement that would inspire her work. We came up with an awesome one pretty quickly at the end of our time together because the rest of the session was focused on figuring out what’s important to her, who she wanted to serve and how, and what kind of impact she wanted to have.
While this client understood the importance of a vision statement and had my help in writing a good one, not everyone does and so I set off to write an article to help others write their own vision statement.
When you’re developing something like a vision statement without any assistance, having helpful examples is crucial.
So, I did a search for vision statement examples online to pull together the best ones and was APPALLED at what I found.
Bad advice about vision statements
While a lot of blogs will do an okay job explaining what a vision statement is, they muck it all up by giving examples that are NOT actually vision statements. Most of the are really just mission statements or purpose statements (but called vision statements by the organization).
These are not the same thing.
No wonder most small businesses don’t have any of these three (or don’t use them if they do) - it’s confusing! In another post, I’ll do a deep dive on vision statement vs. mission statement vs. purpose statement, but for now, I’m going to set the record straight on what a vision statement is and the two types I think every business should have (yep, I said TWO - bet you haven’t heard that before!).
What is a vision statement (and the two types)?
A vision statement is a guiding beacon that depicts the kind of future to which your organization aspires. It gives you and any collaborators or team members a direction to focus your efforts on so you’re working towards a focused goal. It should be inspiring.
As I started to collect the few good examples of vision statements I could find (mixed amongst a lot of statements that are NOT really vision statements), I started to see a trend.
All non-profits were writing one type of vision statement and all businesses were writing a different type of vision statement.
It dawned on me - these two types of vision statements serve very different purposes, and it would be incredibly powerful for a business to have BOTH!
Here’s a deep dive into each of these two types of vision statements and then a case for why you’ll be killin’ it if you have BOTH.
But quickly, one last lesson about what makes a good vision statement:
What should NOT be in a vision statement
In the examples I found, there were some that were close to being a good vision statement, but there was one common mistake. They included an action to get to the vision.
A vision statement is a just that - a statement of what the vision is, not what action you have to take to get there (that belongs elsewhere).
All vision statements should be written in the future tense - as if it has already come true. There is no place for phrases like to become, striving for, going to be, committed to, to create, bring inspiration, provide, build, etc.
A vision statement is time to put a stake in the ground and declare what you believe the future should be like - a future you’re going to work damn hard to create. Imagine your goals have come true already, now describe what that is like.
THEN you have a great vision statement.
Two types of vision statements
I mentioned that noticed non-profits had different types of vision statements than businesses had.
The not-for-profits were writing externally-focused vision statements. These were about how the WORLD will be different.
Conversely, businesses were writing internally-focused vision statements. These were about how their ORGANIZATION will be different.
Let’s just call these two types Internal and External and break them both down with some good examples (unlike the other round-ups I found).
EXTERNAL Vision Statement
An external vision statement describes a desire you have for the world. It’s very aspirational and inspiring. Not-for-profits are masters at this kind of vision statement. In fact, most of these organizations were probably started because of the vision.
Here are some examples:
Feeding America: A hunger-free America
Alzheimer’s Association: A world without Alzheimer’s
Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live.
ASPCA: The United States is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.
Goodwill: Every person has the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential and participate in and contribute to all aspects of life.
Kiva: We envision a world where all people – even in the most remote areas of the globe – hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others.
Amnesty International: A world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.
Human Rights Campaign: Equality for everyone
Oxfam: A just world without poverty
National Multiple Sclerosis Society: A World Free of MS
For some reason I don’t see many businesses doing this type of vision statement, but I think they’d all be better businesses if they did. By using an external vision statement, businesses would become more focused on what their company is doing for the world rather than just what it’s doing for their stakeholders. And when you solve problems for the world, it in-turn should also do good things for your company (at least that’s my belief).
I also wrote some business examples of external vision statements, since I couldn’t find any:
I envision a world in which marketing is used solely to serve our citizens: to connect people with the help they need and the things they desire.
All human beings get the opportunity to contribute to society in a meaningful way.
We envision a world where every person has the financial means to provide for themselves and their family.
Every person on earth has beautiful photographs to remember special moments and loved ones.
Every American has free and easy access to the Internet at all times.
There is never a time when a female walking by herself feels unsafe.
If an external vision statement becomes a reality, you should be out of a job because your work (or your organization) would no longer need to exist (or it would need to change it’s focus).
Now that’s a good vision statement.
INTERNAL Vision Statement
An internal vision statement describes a desire you have for your organization. It provides something tangible for the people in your organization to work towards. This is the most common type used by large companies. The trick here is not to get too egotistical.
[Note: Many of these organization had a vision statement that was 90% great, but included some elements that have no place in a vision statement like what I talked about above. When I thought it was still a great example, I included it below but changed those parts - I let you know when I do this. Lots of companies are doing this wrong, so let me show you how to do it right.]
Southwest Airlines: Be the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline. [Changed from “To become…”]
NPR: With its network of independent member stations, is America’s pre-eminent news institution.
San Diego Zoo: Be a world leader at connecting people to wildlife and conservation. [Changed from “To become…”]
Cleveland Clinic: Be the world’s leader in patient experience, clinical outcomes, research and education. [Took out “Striving to…” ]
Mandala Leaders: To be the fastest growing, most rewarding and most transformative leadership community.
Reelgood: Be the place that people go to when they want to watch any TV show or movie.
Pfizer Inc: Be the premier, innovative biopharmaceutical company.
Manchester United Ltd: Be the best football club in the world, both on and off the pitch.
Procter & Gamble: Be, and be recognized as, the best consumer products and services company in the world.
The success criteria for this type of vision statement is that if this vision were to be achieved, your organization should have reached it’s pinnacle. Everyone would be talking about, and benchmarking against, these organizations, because they’d be killin’ it!
Why businesses should have BOTH types
Why an external vision statement is critical
I’m a big proponent of using business for good and pursuing meaningful work. I believe in order to do that you have to have an external vision - a vision of the future that your work will have a hand in creating. If your vision is stretching and truly aspirational, you likely won’t accomplish it in your lifetime, but you will play a big role and contribute momentum to actually making that vision a reality. Ideally, you leave a legacy (and maybe even a company) that continues to work towards that vision.
I used to work for Procter & Gamble and they only had an internal vision (as you saw above). It was really apparent that the work we were doing was to serve the stakeholders, not the consumers. As an employee, I wasn’t able to find my work meaningful and fulfilling. I couldn’t connect what I was doing within the company to anything positive happening on the outside. It’s ultimately one of the major reasons I left to be an entrepreneur, so that I could more positively impact my community.
If you want to attract, and KEEP, good people on your team, inspiring them with an external vision is key. Even if you’re just a business of one (you’re my peeps!) this will also keep you inspired and help you push through the difficult stuff a little easier.
Why an internal vision statement is also helpful
I always push my clients to create an aspirational vision statement. I think this is a must for the reasons I mentioned above. But after reflecting on this article, I believe that an internal vision statement serves a very different, and important, purpose too.
For those of us who are strongly driven by the meaning in our work, an internal vision statement can help provide a more practical approach for achieving the external vision. It sets the vision for ourselves and our business.
I’ve done this a bit through visioning (more of that in another post), but I think specifically writing a separate internal vision statement can be really powerful. It helps clarify the future for my business and links it to my more lofty and aspirational external vision.
My two vision statements
Here are my two visions so you can see how having both would be beneficial.
I envision a world where everyone recognizes their unique gifts and uses them to positively impact the world.
I am THE person solopreneurs turn to to figure out how to live their ideal life.
The external one is why I do what I do and what I hope for the future. It flows through to my belief and value system. My internal one is how I approach that directly through my work. I believe that we as humans inherently want to seek out our ideal life as a way to discover what we are really created for and meant to do. I want to help solopreneurs figure that out.
Write your vision statements - key takeaways
Don’t follow the bad advice on others’ posts that give examples of vision statements that are actually mission and purpose statements - it’s super confusing and misleading! I provide a ton of accurate examples in this article.
Your vision statements should be a guiding beacon that depicts the kind of future to which your organization aspires. It gives you and any collaborators or team members a direction to focus your efforts on so you’re working towards a focused goal.
Make sure your vision statement is written in the future tense - as if it has already come true. There is no place for phrases like to become, striving for, going to be, committed to, to create, bring inspiration, provide, build, etc.
Start by writing an externally-focused vision statement about how you envision the WORLD being different in the future. You know it’s good if you’ll be put out of a job when it becomes a reality because your business would no longer need to exist.
Next, write an internally-focused vision statement about how your BUSINESS will be different. If this vision were to be achieved, you/your business should will have reached it’s pinnacle. Everyone will be talking about, and benchmarking against, you because you’ll be killin’ it!
Finally, use your two vision statements to do your long-term and short-term goal setting and strategic planning. This will help you always be striving for the right things!
What do you think?
Try this out, then post your two vision statements in the comments below and let me know if you think it’s helpful to have both.
Still figuring your business out?
I started off this article with a story about how writing a vision statement is a lot easier if you first figure out a few things like who you want to serve and how. If you’re working through those things, checkout my free workbook to help you figure out what business to start. Even if your business is already up and running, it helps you clarify what to focus on moving forward if you’re not totally in love with the way it is now. Download it below:
I’m Stacy, an entrepreneur, strategist, and adventurer dedicated to helping you build a kick-ass business out of your skills & passions. Why? Because I think you should love your life and that’s kind of hard to do if you don’t love your work.
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