How to Craft a Vision Statement That’s Not Just Corporate-Speak

We love the results we see when our clients use these techniques. From new Product Owners to veteran CEOs of successful companies, this approach helps leaders quickly and collaboratively craft a vision statement that improves business performance, alignment, and engagement.

A great vision statement can create alignment, increase engagement, and improve business outcomes. But too many vision statements are corporate-speak buzzword bingo. And those can be worse than no vision statement at all. In this episode, Peter and Richard explain what makes a vision statement worth writing and share a quick, collaborative process to create one for your product, team, or organization.

Show Notes

  1. Effective vision statements are characterized by conciseness, clarity, abstractness, stability, future orientation, challenge, and the ability to inspire, leading to higher performance outcomes in businesses across different countries (Kantabutra & Avery, 2010).
  2. Quality vision statements in U.S. hospitals were associated with improved organizational performance, emphasizing the significance of a clear and effective roadmap for achieving envisioned futures (Gulati, Mikhail, Morgan, & Sittig, 2016).
  3. A vision statement can improve both organizational and individual performance, provided it contains certain characteristics. These include being action-oriented, innovative, and reflective of the organization’s mission and values (Kirkpatrick, 2008).
  4. Visionary leadership is linked to the perception of organizational effectiveness in nonprofit organizations, suggesting that leaders with high levels of transformational leadership are viewed as leading more effective organizations (Taylor, Cornelius, & Colvin, 2014).

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Episode transcription


Early in my coaching career, I’d seen the value of a strong shared purpose to align a team and give their work meaning. But I remember one experience that revealed to me that I didn’t understand how purpose worked quite as well as I thought.

I remember encountering one of the most demotivated software developers I’d ever encountered. This guy was seriously not into his work. He just didn’t feel like it mattered. But, ironically, his cubicle was literally in the shadow of a company purpose poster: Happy stock photo medical professionals with a breathless caption: “At Such and Such a Company, we’re transforming the world of healthcare!”

So, I asked the developer, “How does your work that you’re working on right now connect to that purpose over there on the wall?” He replied something like, “Dude, I’m building a ‘remember me’ checkbox on the login form. Look at me go, ‘transforming the world of healthcare.’” Maybe I could have told some kind of story about how those connected. But I didn’t really know, and I didn’t want to be patronizing to someone who had worked in that context way more than I had, so, I let it go.

Well, about a week later, we were sitting in the sprint review. The whole team and some stakeholders were there, including a nurse who was a beta user of their software. That dev had finished his ‘remember me’ checkbox and demoed it to the group…like Eyore from Winnie the Pooh. The most boring, whiny demo I’d ever witnessed. “I built this checkbox, here it is, but it’s not that important and nobody cares.”

Meanwhile, I could see that the nurse here was getting kind of upset during the demo. And I was getting curious—ready to get out the popcorn. What’s going on here? Because the feature seems to work. What’s she upset about?

Finally, she spoke up and said something like, “I’m sorry you feel like you wasted your time on that feature. But what you should know is that I spend a good part of every interaction with a patient logging in over and over again instead of actually talking to the patient. So, being able to stay logged in and focus on my patient for a whole visit is really going to improve my patient care. And I’m sorry that’s not important to you, but it’s kind of a big deal to me.”

Ooh! OK. Well, there, as it turned out, was the connection to purpose that the developer needed. It came too late and probably not in the most useful format. But that experience helped the product owner and the rest of the team realize they needed to make a change to how they communicated purpose and vision.

Zooming out, this story reveals that purpose and vision statements done poorly, like the poster on the wall, can lead to skepticism and disconnection. They can be worse than no purpose statement at all.

If, however, you can make a real connection between the work of a team and the impact or the better future that their work will create, you can see a lot of benefit.


So, should we toss vision and purpose statements altogether as a lost cause? The research says no. We’ll cite several studies in the show notes, but the key takeaway from the research, is that effectively crafted purpose and vision statements enhance organizational performance, alignment, and engagement.


So, in this episode, we’ll share the characteristics of great vision statements, we’ll give a few examples, and we’ll describe a collaborative approach to drafting vision or purpose statements that gets the benefit of multiple perspectives while avoiding the problem of least common  denominator group think that often results in the bland corporate drivel we’ve seen in the bad purpose and vision statements.


And a reminder that The Humanizing Work Show is a free resource sponsored by the Humanizing Work company:

Humanizing Work exists to make work more fit for humans and humans more capable of doing great work. To that end, we do training and coaching in three areas:

  1. First, we help leaders lead empowered teams and individuals more effectively.
  2. Second, we help product people turn their ideas into good visions, like this episode, experiments, and backlogs.
  3. Third, we help teams collaborate better to produce meaningful outcomes on complex work.


If you or your organization would benefit from better leadership, better product management, or better collaboration, and if you find our vision for human-centric work compelling, visit the contact page on and schedule a conversation with us.

So, what makes a vision statement great?

Well, an effective vision statement vividly describes a compelling future. It’s not a bland, say-nothing platitude, like “Our vision is to be the undisputed marketplace leader.” Which is a real one, by the way– you can look it up. I won’t call them out here.

A great vision statement is concrete; it’s not corporate speak. Listen to this example from Ford in 1905, which is, admittedly, an artifact of its time. But it’s concrete, vivid, inspiring, challenging, and very specific to Ford’s mission of affordable motor vehicles for everyone:

Here it is:

We will build a motor car for the great multitudes… It will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces… When we are through, everyone will be able to afford one… the horse will have disappeared from our highways and the automobile will be taken for granted.


I have a hard time not hearing that in an old-timely voice, but I love that last line.


Do you want me to redo it in that voice for you, Peter?


No, that’s all right.  I think we can skip it.

But I do love that last line, that the horse will have disappeared from the highway and the automobile will be taken for granted; because in 1905 that would have been pretty shocking to say horses have disappeared from the highways. That was the form of transportation in those days. So, it’s challenging and inspiring, but it also paints a specific, vivid picture of what it will be like when Ford succeeds at that mission of a motor car for the great multitudes.

Let’s share one more example from Sony in the 1950s. Now. a quick reminder of the historical perspective on this one: At the time this statement was written, we were only a few years after WWII. Japan was in the midst of rebuilding and trying to establish a new identity. Here’s what they captured:

We will create products that become pervasive around the world… We will be the first Japanese company to go into the American market and distribute directly… We will succeed with innovations like the transistor radio that American companies have failed at… Fifty years from now, our brand-name will be as well-known as any on Earth… and will signify innovation and quality that rivals the most innovative companies anywhere… “Made in Japan” will mean something fine, not shoddy.


The sense of pride and aspiration in that vision statement is challenging and inspiring. And the examples of how they’ll do it, like the transistor radio, are specific, vivid, and concrete, but they clearly don’t just read as a product roadmap. They’re not the transistor radio company. It’s an example that illustrates a larger concept. Sony’s vision was about changing the perception of what it means to be Japanese at a time when Japan needed it.


In both of these vision statements, I notice that they are written with a very specific audience in mind: employees. Ford and Sony were using these statements to fire up and align their people. While investors, partners, or maybe even customers might get some clarity from such a vision statement, that’s not really who they’re for. They’re not PR pieces. The job they’re doing is an internal one.


Right. So how do you get something like this for your product, team, or organization? Well, we have two bits of advice: great writing is rarely great before draft 4, and great writing benefits from multiple perspectives, but not for a final draft.


We’ve spent years developing some specific techniques to put that advice into practice, and we can now regularly get really good draft vision statements in about an hour working with a team. We call this approach Collaborative Vision Drafting, and it’s a technique we teach in our Product Owner courses and a deep dive into this is one of the essential workshops in our Humanizing Work Leadership Academy, since being purposeful and visionary is statistically the most important competency for effective leaders. We’d love to see some of you in one of those workshops, but in case that’s not currently in your budget, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.


All right.  To start, everyone on the team writes an individual draft 1 of a vision statement, attempting to hit those key characteristics that we’ve described earlier in this episode. We usually give a 2-minute timebox and a simple template to ensure that no one gets into analysis paralysis in trying to make it perfect and it normalizes the practice of “just capture something, incomplete and imperfect.”


Then, without explanation or editorializing, or apologizing, everyone simply reads their draft 1 out loud. Literally just the words they wrote. While one team member is reading their draft, the others are taking notes of words, phrases, or ideas that they want to blatantly steal for their own draft 2. There’s no discussion, everyone simply reads their first draft, others take notes, then everyone writes a draft 2.


Yup.  And for draft 2, we want to make sure people don’t get stuck in a rut and just incrementally refine their draft 1, so we ask them to incorporate two things: First, like Peter said, everyone is strongly encouraged to incorporate something they liked from someone else’s draft 1. A word, a phrase, an idea. They have not just permission, but encouragement to plagiarize here.  Which lets the best ideas come to the top in the group. Second, we provide a list of what we call “wildcard phrases,” whose job is to inject something unexpected into the creative space, and we ask people to borrow language or even just grammatical structure from something in the wildcard list. Now, that’s a lot to do in Draft 2, so we bump the timebox up to a luxurious 2 and a half minutes.


That feels like a long time when we describe it.  Try writing something down in two and a half minutes. It’s pretty short.  Hopefully, you can tell that our tongue is firmly planted in cheek when we call that luxurious.

Then, for draft 3, we give a list of corporate-speak words and phrases to edit out. There’s no ‘synergies’ or ‘continuous attention to customer delight’ here. Give us word pictures, not word salad!


At this point, with draft 3, we’ve gotten as much benefit from a team activity as we’re going to. Creative writing isn’t done by committee, so at this point, we’ll collect all of the draft 3s, hand them to one person as input, there’s usually somebody who, clearly in the org structure, owns the vision, and ask them to go off and individually create a draft 4 based on the team’s input, not a Frankenstein’s monster of all the different inputs, but taking all of them as examples and writing one concrete vision.  And then they’ll test that with the original team and close stakeholders, probably refining it a bit more into a final draft, but being careful not to smooth out the edges and turn it back into corporate-speak.

We obviously go a lot deeper into all of those steps in our workshops, but you have enough with that description to try it out on your own here. We love the results we see when our clients use these techniques. From new Product Owners to veteran CEOs of successful companies, this approach helps leaders quickly and collaboratively craft a vision statement that improves business performance, alignment, and engagement.

Do you have a favorite example of an inspiring vision statement or, on the flip side, a favorite example of a terrible one? Let us know in the comments on YouTube or LinkedIn. And if you want to work through this approach with us, you can register for an upcoming public course or contact us about bringing a Purpose & Vision workshop to your team. Thanks for tuning in!

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