The Spirit Of Vision

You can excite and unite your people through Vision, but first it has to make you tremble.

Having trouble sleeping? Read a Mission Statement! Oh I know that's a rather cynical way to start what is supposed to be an energizing and motivating article - but let's face it - how many employees do you know have their corporate Mission Statement taped to the bathroom mirror because it gives them an emotional jolt on Monday morning? Now, how many employees do you know who frankly don't care if there is a Mission Statement or not? Exactly.What did we do before we had Mission Statements? Did we wander around in a pointless daze wondering what to do? Of course not! We did our jobs. Now that we all have Mission Statements what do we do? We do our jobs. Does anyone else get the feeling that something is missing here?

The 'something missing' is called spirit. It's the fire in the belly. The light in the eyes. The spring in the step. The thrill of innovation. The pride of quality. The satisfaction of service. The delight in reward. Wrap these all up and you have something called Vision. I define "Vision" as "seeing the future as though it were already here." There is an evocative phrase I like to attach to this idea of vision - "The Richly Imagined Future." I think it has more life and action in it, more spirit than the simple words "mission" or "vision." It requires more than some vague goal hygienically written so as not to arouse provocation.

If I were to ask you to describe your richly imagined future, I would expect to hear something truly grand about how you imagine a better world tomorrow. It would be grand because imagination has no limits, especially if you are richly imagining it. It would be vibrant and tasty. It would be intense in color and depth. The richly imagined future is not anchored to last quarter's results or to political complexities. It is the world as you dream it could be.

Well, as someone once said, "It would be a nice dream if we all dreamt it!" So how do we get people to dream our dream? How do we get them to really see the potential of our company?Economic or Ecological?Grand statements of intention (call it mission, call it vision, call it whatever you will, it matters only to consultants) can be created on one of two levels.

There is an economic and an ecological level. Most corporate missions are expressions of the economic - and that is where any possible passion is hissed out of the human spirit. Economy (from the Greek oikos nomos) literally means 'the rules around here'. It refers to those things we measure and for which we have hard data. Ecology (oikos logos) refers to what is really going on, the deeper meaning of the situation. The latter is a fuzzy area - 'the soft stuff' some intimacy-adverse people like to call it. We don't have ready language for it and it makes most corporate leaders uncomfortable. Perhaps it is even too intimate.

The economic is more about 'what' and 'how'. The ecological is about 'why'. Without an answer to the question "WHY?" there can be no purpose or passion. "Why?" is the universal question created into every human heart. We are born asking it and, unfortunately we have it pretty well bleached from our souls by the age of seven. This is precisely what makes exciting our employees to vision so difficult. Most people go through life without a "Why?" and our job is to put the "Why?" back into them! To give them a "Why?" for their work. This is the job and joy of leadership!Why are you doing what you do?It does not take much to see that if we who own, manage or lead the company do not have a 'Why?' for ourselves, it will be impossible to instill purpose and passion in anyone else.

So - why are you doing what you are doing? If it is only because you are the fifth generation owner and you feel obligated to your heritage, so be it. If it is because it was simply the best job you could get at the time, that too is nothing to mock. On the other hand just do not expect anyone who works for you to wake with a burning passion to get to work. Now, if what you do glows in your soul, so that as a manager you can't look at an employee without marveling at the responsibility you've been granted, you can't take a Sunday afternoon drive without seeing a new application for your product, you swell with pride when you see the team surpass an impossible performance goal, you bow in respect and admiration toward the one who went far beyond the call of duty to serve the customer - then we are getting close to the spirit of vision.

Make your Vision ecological and your Goals economic Let me state it clearly: without a 'Why?' there can be no Vision! Here is a common example of a why-less mission statement. I have seen this a thousand times if I have seen it once. "Our mission is to become the preferred supplier in our chosen marketplace." Sends shivers of excitement through your body doesn't it? Folks, this is no vision - it is a statement of survival. I asked an insurance executive what his vision was for the company and he replied, "To reach a billion dollars in premiums." I said, "Why?" He thought for a moment and answered with wonderful honesty, "I don't know." Frankly, it was just the next big number. If you walked into your doctor's office and read on the wall, "My mission is to reach a million dollars in patient billings" would you stay for a single minute? If that disgusts you, what makes you think that an economic mission statement would excite your employees or customers? I want you to make a fortune, but please, put your economic intentions into your goal statements not your vision statement.

Two years ago, a new president of a pharmaceutical company was addressing the sales force during a convention at which I was the guest speaker. The company made only one or two products but they worked miracles on certain heart problems. To great excitement, the president declared that by the year 2000 he hoped they would hit $50 million in sales (I forget the actual number). Once the aroused crowd settled down, I was invited to speak. You have recognized already that the president had given his economic vision for the new millennium and I could not in good conscience let it pass. "Tell me," I inquired, "if you were to hit this incredible goal, based on the average consumption of your miracle working product, how many patient's lives would have been saved by the year 2000?" They had never been asked that before and immediately broke into small groups. I also forget the figure they estimated, but let's say it was 150,000 patients. "What if our vision was that by the year 2000, we in this room will have saved 150,000 people's lives?" Think about it - which purpose would excite you more? Which one would you brag to your grandchildren about? Do you see the incredible difference? I was trying to turn their economic goal into an ecological vision. It is not an anti-profit thing - it is about having a "Why?" behind what we do.

Again, why does your organization do what it does? Are you protecting treasured history? Are you bringing color and joy into people's lives? Do you bring wisdom to those who have to make decisions? Are you dousing the anger and self-destruction so rampant in our world? Do you bring nourishing food to kitchen tables? Are you keeping people healthy and safe? Are you preserving that which is precious? Do you help children get a decent start in life? In short, "How are you making the world a better place?" Keep asking "Why?" and, when you have answered it, ask "Why?" again. You will know when you have reached an ecological vision because it will make you stand back, almost like it is too big a responsibility. You will feel that you do not deserve such a privilege. It will make you tremble. And then you will begin to know the meaning of your work.

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"Copyright The Ian Percy Corporation." Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers.

Ian Percy is an international speaker and consultant and can be reached at


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