Key Concept and Why I Am Interested in It
Having worked in a broad range of fields over the course of my career the idea of a “Vision Statement “ has always seemed supercilious to me. I’m not sure if it’s my personality, or a broader distrust of language meant to influence (ironic given my work in marketing) but the mission/vision/north-star has always created a negative reaction for me. I do, however, recognize the need for teamwork, and unified efforts, to reach a goal. Standard bearers in the military create esprit-de-corps and provide a physical rally point for soldiers, and I try to view vision statements as a virtual flag planted in the sand. Following research into the process of developing vision statements, I have realized that they serve a very real purpose and deserve more respect.
Explanation of the Key Concept
First, we must identify the difference between mission, vision, and value statements. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s website SHRM.com, mission statements convey what the organization’s reason for existence is, the vision statement looks to communicate the firm’s “ideal state” and is inspirational in nature, while the value statement seeks to define the ethical guidelines followed by the company. Therefore, focusing on the vision statement will require a broader philosophical thought process versus a nuts-and-bolts approach to defining the goals of a unit. Consider, for instance, the vision statement of my current employer EffecTV (an NBC Universal company). “We will become the world’s smartest audience delivery company. We will relentlessly focus on innovation and the simplest customer experience. Our marketing solutions will deliver unparalleled results for our clients and partners.”, so says the masthead. The message is articulated in meetings and company communications on a regular basis.
Major Article Summary
I very clearly remember former Ford and Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca reflecting on his leadership style during an interview, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.”. No statement has ever relayed the importance of a clear vision statement like his quote. Shelley Kirkpatrick, noted business development leader and adjunct professor, seeks to identify a clear path from inspiration to articulation. Following extensive quantitative interviews with leading chief executive officers, Kirkpatrick leverages her extensive experience in the human performance field to identify five key benchmarks. Initially uncommunicated, the vision statement is found within the day-to-day operations, the message is then formally stated, refined, and then finally re-examined prior to distribution. A key part of the process involves pulling in different opinions and councils, Kirkpatrick states, “Leaders of larger companies should involve as many employees as possible, including the top management team, along with employees who represent groups and levels across the organization.” (2017). This open dialogue and constant refinement are the keys to developing a successful vision statement.
Inspiration lies at the heart of the vision statement. As Baral & Pokharel point out in their research companies must be aware of outside influences, “Media and stakeholders can exert enormous normative pressure for firms to behave in a certain way.” (2017). Kirkpatrick’s conclusions are supported by studies of educational institutions that are resolved to refine their vision statements into concise, achievable goals (Bunkowski & Shelton, 2019). Authors Fiset & Robinson also support the process of incremental steps in the creation process with their educational process designed to help students develop compelling vision statements. The authors further assert the need for powerful vision statements saying, “The ability for leaders to construct and communicate an inspiring image of the future is an element highlighted in numerous leadership theories…” (2020). Clearly a measured and thorough approach is necessary to formulate and refine the vision. Further, it must contain language that both inspires and makes clear the overall philosophical goals of the company.
Baral, N., & Pokharel, M. P. (2017). How sustainability is reflected in the S&P 500 companies’ strategic documents. Organization & Environment, 30(2), 122-141.
Can vision statements serve as public relations fodder rather than actual reflections of a firm’s true goals? This question hides just below the surface of the research article authored by two researchers from Concord University and the University of Washington, Seattle. Early in the study, the researchers state openly that corporate vision statements, among others, are often influenced by the media, various stakeholders, and the public at large who now have access through the internet to corporate documents once rarely viewed. While one might expect that mission and vision statements, along with their values might reflect a greater focus on sustainability, the opposite was true. The focus on stakeholder profits was evident in the vast majority (89%) of corporate messaging. Researchers hypothesized that a lack of clear definition, relative to ecologically friendly practices, kept organizations from including eco-friendly messaging. The governing boards of directors for a company also appear to have influence and may believe that eco-friendly inclusion would make the company appear weak or ineffective at generating profits. While the study revealed few actionable conclusions, it did reveal that the capitalistic nature of most firms remains intact.
Bunkowski, L., & Shelton, K. (2019). MISSION, VISION, AND CORE VALUES THROUGH ONLINE EDUCATION: A case study on tribal college leadership. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 20(4), 1-100.
Examining the alignment of the vision statement to a current course of action can yield valuable data to researchers. The staff of the Tribal College Leadership group in the Pacific northwest conducted extensive qualitative research interviews in an attempt to measure the acceptance and proper alignment of the organization’s efforts to grow online education options for Native Americans. In complex studies, qualitative interviews often reveal a richer result. While complicated to code and grade, this process delivers significantly deeper insight into the alignment of the stated vision and the actual alignment. Shelton and Bunkowski are both staff members of the organization and were able to compose a set of interview questions that were probing and consistent. The results indicated broad support for the vision statement, “We are committed to our students, the Tribes we serve, and advancing Tribal sovereignty for the protection and enhancement of our homelands and future generations”. While the mission statement required modification, the surveys revealed that the more philosophical text of the vision statement was in alignment with the attitudes of the staff.
Cîrlanaru, A., & Ionescu, S. (2020). Employee perceptions of vision. FAIMA Business & Management Journal, 8(4), 64-74.
Romanian employees were given a broad survey that sought to determine whether the staff knew the company’s vision and whether it needed to be fluid in nature. The researchers determined that while the majority understood the vision of their employer, few had a working opinion of when it needed to be adjusted. The survey was distributed to a large cross-section of industries ranging from manufacturing to alternative health care practitioners. The study failed to reach substantial conclusions beyond the confirmation that employees understood the purpose of the vision statement. The sample size, it should be noted, was relatively small.
Fiset, J., & Robinson, M. A. (2020). Developing foresight through the evaluation and construction of vision statements: An experiential exercise. Organization Management Journal, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print)
Rather than focusing on the vision statements themselves, Canadian research professors developed a study relative to the vision statement’s construction. Specifically, the researchers hoped to, “…describe a two-part activity based on visionary leadership scholarship and theory designed to teach students to cultivate foresight and consider future possibilities through the organizational vision statement development process.”. Students were to create a fictional CEO character that was tasked with developing a visionary statement around the company’s goals. Eighty-nine participants took part in the exercise. The exercise informed the participants of the key elements to an effective vision statement and the process of construction. Further, the students were to imagine the overall goals of the fictional company relative to the perspectives of employees, managers, and the corporate leadership teams in order to have a more holistic approach. The researchers concluded that students had gained significant insights into the process of formulating an effective vision statement.
Kirkpatrick, S. A. (2017). Understanding the role of vision, mission, and values in the HPT model. Performance Improvement (International Society for Performance Improvement), 56(3), 6-14.
Shelley Kirkpatrick, adjunct faculty at George Mason University, has researched the development of the vision statement from a unique perspective. Following numerous interviews with a diverse pool of chief executive officers, she has proposed a plan for vision statement development. The process can be broken down into five stages beginning with a reflective period and ending with a re-evaluation phase. Kirkpatrick states the importance of the vision statement saying, “Leaders who are passionate about their companies should, no doubt, be able to harness their own inspiration and share it with the rest of the company.”. What language is used to inspire team members can remain elusive. Further, the vision statements elements must be infused into all of the company’s communications. Without being overt in the use of repetitive language, the key concepts should be reinforced to build confidence.
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