Why Articulating A Clear Vision Is Critical For Entrepreneurs?

observation deck

A few years ago I used a phone app, called Shapr, to expand my social circles, to make new connections, learn new things and enjoy a conversation or two. I met aspiring artists and entrepreneurs who were looking to start a business or were already working on one. They shared their stories and inquired into pro-bono consulting to help them with building their ventures.

In many instances my initial question was, “Where do you want to go with this idea and what are you creating?” Oftentimes, my Shapr’s friends could not clearly respond and this, initially, left me somewhat confused. If I was confused from the start, how would their customers (or potential customers) react?

Compelling vision and mission statements have the ability to provide clarity and direction with regard to why a business exists, what purpose it serves and what value it brings to its stakeholders. Not being able to clearly articulate this can obviously make it difficult to get people on board with your ideas. 

Ashley Thompson, the owner of Pressed, a retail store that features uniquely curated and beautifully crafted products, believes that creating a clear vision helped her differentiate, “I had a hard time communicating what made us so unique. Now that I can tell people what our vision and mission are, it makes it so much easier for people to understand why we do what we do. We also needed it as a team. It is so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day operations and to forget why you started doing this in the first place. Recently, I have been using it a lot to make decisions as well. We are growing so fast and as I make these bigger business decisions, I can see if it aligns with our vision and mission. It keeps me focused so I’m less likely to grow in the wrong direction.  Every choice I make should be getting us one step closer to our vision.”

Her work as a startup leader required her to place a high value on the need to create a vision and mission that inspired her people, “Now when I feel like I am losing sight of my ‘why’ I can look to our vision and mission to remind me why I started doing this in the first place. We also like to have it in front of our whole staff, because it’s a reminder to them that we have this big vision to fulfill. It gives us something to work towards.”

What is the difference between a vision and a mission?

In this video Bruce Johnson simply explains the difference between both:

  • Vision is the reason why you exist as a business, your purpose/cause and belief. Vision is about seeing something in the future, the ideal state, that is quite difficult to achieve but is doable. Something people should get excited about it to say, “I want to be part of that.” A vision statement should be clear and simple but inspiring.
    • For example, Ikea’s vision is, “ To create a better everyday life for the many people. ” It describes why the company exists. The statement is short, clear, simple, inspiring, and broad. It doesn’t even mention what company delivers in the statement.
  • Mission, on the other hand, is about what you do that has a connection to why you do it. It defines it.
    • For example, Starbucks’s mission is, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” The statement is short and simple. It answers the questions, “who, what and how.”

What is the process to creating a mission and vision statement?

The process of creating vision and mission is usually very creative and involves a lot of critical thinking and planning. The vision and mission prepare the business for the future and challenges the current state, whatever it may be.

An outcome of a clear mission will enable leaders to make decisions that aim to meet a common vision. Clarity on vision and mission will establish guidelines for defining work, tracking progress, and help not to derail during the company’s growth. Internally, it will help define performance standards and build a framework for ethical behaviors. Externally, it will serve well as a marketing tool and connect customers, suppliers and outside partners.

Typically, the process of vision and mission development has been relegated to senior leaders, sometimes with the help of a consultant. The downsides of the traditional approach are that it is usually done over a session or two, assumes most of the critical thinking would be done prior to the sessions (i.e., homework), and usually does not involve feedback and input from employees or other stakeholders, which may result in less buy-in.

Vision development is a critical thinking approach about where you would like to take your business in the next 5-10 years or further. It should be clear, simple and inspiring. Simon Sinek explained that asking the why questions are so important for the business to communicate from inside out rather than outside in, “Instead of telling people how you do it, tell them why you do it.” From there, clearly articulating what success for your organization will look like you will begin to understand the gap between your current and desired, future states. Once this is complete, you can gather feedback from your employees, loyal customers, suppliers and vendors.

The end product could be anything- a song, video, picture or simple statement that can easily be communicated to others. It can be helpful to engage a third party facilitator to help to move the process along in an objective manner by asking the right questions at the right time.

Key topics to consider when developing your Vision and Mission:

  • Company’s reputation
  • Primary customer and products, word of mouth
  • Core values
  • Industry respect
  • Employees, their motivation, and how are they performing their work and serving customers
  • What works well, what doesn’t, what needs to be improved
  • Competitive analysis in your industry, including barriers

Ashley Thompson, the owner of Pressed, is happy that she has gone through the process of vision and mission development and she says it makes a big difference now, “Going through the process I learned I didn’t have as great a grasp on our vision as I thought I did. It really made me take a deep look at what success looked like to me.  I thought I knew but when I started going through the questions I realized I had never really set the time aside to think through a lot of these questions.  I had gotten so wrapped up in just keeping our doors open and our store profitable I didn’t know what our vision was anymore. The fire that got me started was gone and going through the process helped me find that again…Finding that again also helped me pass that on to our staff. Now our vision and mission is something we all have in common, it really has united us as a team.”

I like this quote from my favorite book by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, “There is no greater misfortune in the world than the loss of reason.” For companies, a reason is their vision and writing a vision statement and mission statement is only the beginning, it needs to be continually restated in the organization. When people share the same vision, they are connected by common ambition and caring. In the end, what really matters, whether you, as aspiring entrepreneur, and your people know where your venture is going and have a buy into what you are doing as an organization. But most importantly, do not lose a sight of why you are doing what you are doing, your reason, purpose, belief, your vision.