Many business leaders recognize the importance of having a strong corporate vision and commitment to leadership. A company's vision is not just a statement on its website or brochure; it is a bold and courageous statement about the way the world ought to be, that sets the direction for the organization, inspires employees, and creates a sense of purpose for everyone involved.
But most companies get it wrong.
Understanding the distinction can make the difference between becoming the market leader and just saying you are the market leader.
Difference Between Company Vision and Company Mission
Look at the average vision statement and you’ll find affirmations like, “to make our customers wildly successful” or “to be the most responsive and customer-focused leader of INSERT CATEGORY HERE.” This is not a vision. This is a mission. And missions are critically important.
Missions can help provide strategic direction to the organization, rally employees to work harder, and communicate the long-term goals of the organization to customers, partners, and investors. A mission is about your company. And rightly so. Every organization should take the time to craft a simple mission statement that is relevant to employees and customers.
But what about the vision statement?
A company vision is a statement that describes the future state of the world that the organization is trying to create. It is aspirational, and inspirational, and provides a sense of purpose and direction to the organization and its ecosystem of stakeholders.
Many times, a client will say to me, “But we can’t achieve that vision alone.” Precisely. A vision is not owned by your company but shared by others. There is no more powerful message a company can advance. A vision builds ecosystems. It sets your company at the center of that ecosystem and drives value to all stakeholders. The most successful companies in the world have adopted this ecosystem-building strategy and a vision is an integral part.
The companies that have succeeded in creating a bold and courageous vision are the ones that have looked beyond themselves to capture the imagination and inspire the world. A vision can help your company set the standards, own the agenda, attract investors, motivate employees, accelerate growth, and grow your ecosystem of partners.
Cisco’s Vision: “Voice Will Be Free”
Cisco Systems is a leading global technology company that designs, manufactures, and sells networking equipment, software, and services. As CEO of Cisco Systems from 1995 to 2015, John Chambers transformed the company into one of the great internet-era success stories, growing annual sales from $1.2 billion to $47 billion.
Cisco was then a client of the public relations firm Cunningham Communication where I served as Vice President of the Next-Generation Communication Practice. Chambers was known for his visionary leadership, which helped the company become a leader in networking for the Internet. One of his most significant visions was "voice will be free," a bold story crafted with the help of the Cunningham team, which challenged the telecom paradigm and enabled the company to become a thought leader and disruptor in the industry.
John Chambers first introduced the "voice will be free" vision in a speech in 1997. He stated, "In the future, voice will be just another application running over the Internet, and it will be free." This vision was unique because it did not focus on the company's goals, but rather on changing the world for the better. Chambers believed that by making voice communication free, people could connect with each other more easily and improve their lives.
The "voice will be free" vision challenged the telecom paradigm, which had been built on the concept of charging for every call. This was a controversial idea, and many industry experts dismissed it as unrealistic. It didn’t have to be. A strong vision can be aspirational. A company is not expected to achieve a vision in its entirety. In fact, a good vision is built around a coalition, or ecosystem of partners, that together will enable it to become a reality.
Cisco's commitment to the "voice will be free" vision enabled the company to become a thought leader in the industry. Chambers' bold vision helped to set the direction for the company and inspired employees to work towards a common goal. As a disruptor, Cisco challenged the status quo and pushed the boundaries of what was possible in the industry. In the words of Forbes, "Cisco emerged as a major thought leader that disrupted an entire industry."
Benefits of Communicating a Bold and Courageous Narrative
Communicating a bold and courageous narrative can have numerous benefits for an organization. And your vision statement is a succinct and powerful way to begin a market narrative. First and foremost, it creates a sense of purpose and direction for everyone involved. When employees understand the organization's vision and the future state of the world it is trying to create, they are more motivated, engaged, and committed to achieving the organization's goals.
A bold and courageous narrative can also attract investors and stakeholders who share the organization's vision and want to be a part of creating the future. By setting a high standard and owning the agenda, a visionary company can become a leader in its industry, attracting partners and customers who want to be associated with its brand and values.
Furthermore, a bold and courageous story can accelerate the growth of an organization. By inspiring and motivating employees, attracting investors, and setting a high standard, a visionary company can achieve its goals more quickly and efficiently than its competitors. This can lead to increased market share, revenue growth, and profitability. Customers that believe in the organizational vision are more likely to believe the company is sustainable and here to stay – an important factor in marketing to B2B or B2G customers.
Another such visionary company is Tesla. Tesla's vision is to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. It is a bold and courageous vision that goes beyond Tesla's own interests and inspires the world to adopt a sustainable energy model. Tesla's vision has set the standard for the electric vehicle industry, and it has attracted investors, motivated employees, and grown its ecosystem of partners. Tesla's vision has transformed the way people think about energy and transportation. They weren’t the first to deliver a zero-emission, electric vehicle to market. But their vision helped catapult them to be seen as the de facto leader of the industry regardless of a first-mover advantage.
In today's fast-paced and rapidly changing business environment, companies need to have a strong corporate vision and a commitment to leadership to succeed. However, it is not enough to have a mission that only focuses on the company itself and its goals. A truly visionary company must have a bold and courageous story that goes beyond its own interests and inspires the world. The benefits are tangible – stakeholder commitment, ecosystem expansion, customer loyalty, and growth.