The Point of The Vision Statement Is To See Things Clearly

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As mentioned before, business is simply a game-a game we play to win fairly and by the rules, but a game nonetheless. Given that, many great teams in sports over the years have had a key phrase to rally around. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the seventies had "Steel Curtain." The Chicago Bulls of the nineties had "Game Time."

Turning to the business world, even Anheuser-Busch had "Kill Miller." That is the primary function of the vision statement-a focal point that the team can rally around.

One respected consultant questioned the need of the vision statement. Given the mission statement she felt a vision is unnecessary clutter. This is a shortsighted view. The vision plays a very important role in the brand and especially in the culture.

While the mission statement is a critical piece of the brand puzzle, since it is or at least should be a clear reflection of the company essence, it's long-term in nature. Some companies have had the same mission statement for years or even decades with little or no changes. This is perfectly acceptable and even expected, especially if the core philosophy of the institution hasn't changed.

In contrast, the vision statement provides a short to intermediate term focus for the organization. The vision of course needs to coincide with the mission, as with all other organization drivers of the brand. The vision is also a reflection of the time, the marketplace, and the primary goals of the credit union.

For example, one client I had the pleasure of working with had a vision statement of "First Choice." This was the rallying cry of the staff. What this short, two-word phrase embodied was the desire to be the primary financial institution for every client the institution worked with. The staff also understood that in order to achieve this goal the most important aspect was uncompromising service. Not only did this focus help the organization to achieve a high level of satisfaction and loyalty among its customers but also attracted new business. Furthermore, the external communications-advertising, PR, brochures, etc.-reflected the idea of "First Choice" to further solidify the brand.

While the vision described above was conducive with the overall mission of the institution, the staff would be able to recite the vision more so than the mission. This is another important aspect of the vision. By its nature, the mission can be rather lengthy and difficult to commit to memory. The vision has a tendency to be a much more effective motivator not only due to the fact that it is generally more memorable but also because it establishes a specific focus that the mission may not.

Jack Welch used to require his staff to be able to recite the mission statement at General Electric. While Welch certainly was an innovative leader from whom we can all learn much, the validity and value of this particular practice is questionable. Given the respect that Welch commanded, it's probable that many people memorized the mission to please him without truly reflecting on the true essence of it or what it meant to them as employees of GE. This is about as effective as a 10-year old being able to recite the Pledge of Allegiance without understanding what it means.

This again reflects the importance of the vision statement. Companies that have clearly communicated the vision have been able to see that essence transfer to the everyday actions of their employees. Most leaders would rather have inspired staff that identify with the vision and the true essence of the institution than individuals that can do little more than regurgitate the mission statement on command.

Given the value of the vision it is important to be diligent in creating one. Here are some of the key points to remember during the process:

Review the mission statement.

It is imperative that all organization drivers coincide with each other. If the mission reflects the need to offer the best financial products to families in the community but the vision states the desire to be No. 1 in commercial lending there may be a disconnect there. There should be no question that the vision is completely supported by the mission.

Determine the top two or three achievements that will be necessary for the institution to be successful.

Define success in the financial industry. Success may mean having the highest market share in a particular product area. It may mean being rated highly in service. It may mean being able to fend off a particular competitor. Or it may be a combination thereof.

Determine the time frame. Adding a specific time frame to the vision can be very effective in providing the desired focus. For example, the credit union will grow to $100 million in assets, $85 million in loans, and 100,000 in members by 2006. Adding a time frame helps to further define success and keep everyone accountable.

If a time frame is included make sure the vision is attainable. It's perfectly acceptable to employ a challenging vision in order to stretch the talents of the staff.

However, the vision listed above may be unrealistic for a $10 million credit union with three employees and 800 members.

Keep in mind that the vision should act as a motivator and rallying cry and not a reminder of limitations. It should inspire the team not simply to meet expectations but to exceed them.

Ken Bator is president of Bator Training & Consulting, Inc.. He can be reached at P.O. Box 4844, Naperville, IL 60567, at 630-854-6380, or at kbator

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