Don't Develop an Organizational Vision

David Chaudron, PhD

I hate to tell you how many hours I have spent with clients trying to develop organizational vision and mission statements. It's a good thing if you're paid by the hour, like most consultants are, but it is damn frustrating for everyone.

I've come to the conclusion that developing an organization vision is a bad idea. Let me tell why:
Oftentimes, a vision statement, after much word-smithing, turns into a statement describing what the organization wants to be. That's great! Now, please tell me, how is that different from a mission? This is where the confusion and often times frustration starts.

Let's look at some examples:
One of the most classic visions is that of Martin Luther King's have a dream speech (in part):
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
Above, we have vision statements that range from virtual meaninglessness, to how the organization should operate, to how the world should be.


Be the global leader in customer value.


To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women - globally.


GM's vision is to be the world leader in transportation products and related services. We will earn our customers' enthusiasm through continuous improvement driven by the integrity, teamwork, and innovation of GM people.

Caterplillar's is so vague, it's meaningless. Avon's and GM's sound more like a high-level organizational goal.

Coca-Cola's, though, sounds more like statements of how they want to operate:

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.

No wonder people are confused.

Now mind you, this confusion is great for a consultant. We get to charge endless hours facilitating management sessions while people debate these issues, and then spend lots of time word-smithing every comma and colon.

Certainly, a organization needs a purpose, direction and goals. I'm just saying a vision isn't the way to do it.

Let me propose something different, and a method to do it.

I suggest that the first thing a organization should do is develop scenarios of of what might happen the future. It's easy to get stuck on something ideal and try to achieve it, but that rarely happens. Something that rhymes with "hit" usually hits the fan.
How do develop these scenarios is the topic of much literature and conversation. Let's limit it here to encouraging companies to develop several what if's scenarios of what environment they might be involved in X years.

Second, given these scenarios, develop a statement of what over-arching goal the p should accomplish. This over-arching goal should either include measures of success, or easily be operationalized at a later time. After this is done, put the title of "Mission" on it.

Third, develop possible strategies that will allow the organization to achieve this overarching purpose in the scenarios they just developed. These strategies will need to be further operationalized further and further, providing greater detail to smaller and smaller pieces of the organization. The little word called "stakeholders" at each iteration needs full consideration.

Fourth, develop or refine the systems needed to accomplish these strategies. These systems include organizational structure, IT, human resources, selection, development and motivation and support functions. As part of this, develop guiding principles (ethic if you like, or values if you insist) as to how the human elements of the system should and shouldn't operate.

Fifth, develop an implementation plan, taking those pesky stakeholders into account.

Sixth, gee whiz, do something, will ya! Implement, monitor and revise according to that plan you just developed.

And of course, hire a consultant to help you through this. Given what you know now, maybe you won't have to be charged quite so many billable hours.