Vision and Values: The Important “Soft” Side of Business Planning

When it comes to running their business, many owners tend to prioritize tasks related to increasing sales, maximizing productivity and boosting profits. These are all important, of course, but this doesn’t mean owners should neglect tasks that are sometimes considered to be on the “softer” side of business management.

This includes casting a vision and establishing values for the business. Far from being actually soft, vision and values form the foundation for most successful businesses. And they are especially important to many younger employees, including members of the Millennial generation and Generation Z.

Purpose Over Paycheck

In the inaugural Monster Multi-Generational Survey conducted by Monster and global research firm TNS, nearly three out of four Millennials and Gen Zers said that “purpose” was more important to them in their jobs and careers than a paycheck. This included 70% of Millennials and 74% of Gen Zers.

As Monster put it, “these young people want to care about the work they do. So it’ll be important to keep them engaged in the mission of what you’re doing if you want to keep them engaged in the job.”

Young employees aren’t the only ones who value purpose in their careers, by the way. About two-thirds of baby boomers (67%) and Gen Xers (66%) also ranked purpose ahead of a paycheck.

Additional research has determined that employees who believe their company’s vision is meaningful have engagement levels that are 18 points higher than average. Not only do engaged employees tend to be more productive, but they also serve as more effective ambassadors for the company in the community at large.

What Are Vision and Values?

These statistics emphasize the importance of casting an overarching vision and establishing core values for your business. But let’s start by defining what we mean by vision and values.

A corporate vision articulates a business’ core ideals and provides a roadmap for where the company wants to go in the future. Ideally, this vision should be spelled out clearly in a vision statement that can be shared with employees and all other business stakeholders.

Your values, meanwhile, should stem from your corporate vision. Once you have crafted a vision statement, you can start identifying values that your business will follow based on your vision. Values that are important to many employees today include:

Before you start the process of creating a vision statement, it’s important to distinguish this from a mission statement. Business owners sometimes use these terms interchangeably but they aren’t the same thing. A mission statement should articulate why the business exists, and it should be focused on the present, not the future. Conversely, a vision statement should be focused on the future direction of the business in order to inspire employees and internal stakeholders.

Or put another way: Your mission statement should explain where your business is today and why you do what you do. Your vision statement, meanwhile, should spell out your goals for the future and how you will achieve them.

Walmart offers a good example of the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement. The giant retailer’s mission statement is “to save people money so they can live better.” Their vision statement is “to be THE destination for customers to save money, no matter how they want to shop.”

Far from being actually soft, vision and values form the foundation for most successful businesses

It Starts at the Top

Remember that vision and values must come from the top of your organization — starting with you, the business owner. You will probably want to solicit input from your inner circle of advisors and executives, but almost by definition, vision comes from top leadership.

Vision statements tend to be short and concise — usually no more than a sentence or two, like the Walmart example above. This makes it easy for employees to understand, grasp and embrace it. Remember that your vision statement is primarily intended for internal employees, not external stakeholders or customers. So it shouldn’t be written like a catchy marketing slogan or tagline.

As you begin thinking about your vision statement, start by reviewing your primary long-term goals with your executive team. Ask probing, big-picture questions like:

Here are a few more examples of inspiring vision statements from some of America’s most well-known companies:

Making Your Vision Statement Meaningful

Research reported on identified some common elements to making a corporate vision statement more meaningful. For example, effective vision statements are:

  1. Inspiring and motivating. They tell a story of the benefits the business creates, the impact its products and services have on others and the kind of business that’s required to create value.
  2. Communicated through multiple channels. It’s the responsibility of every leader in the company, not just the business owner, to communicate the vision in as many different ways as possible. This increases the likelihood that the vision will be embraced and executed by all employees.
  3. Aspirational and future focused. The vision statement leads to innovation that results in improvements in the business while demonstrating to employees that leadership is agile and nimble enough to make necessary changes quickly.

Start Planning Now

If you haven’t given much thought to your corporate vision and values, now would be a good time to do so. Plan a meeting with your executives and managers to discuss your big-picture vision and the values that will support it. Your current and future employees will appreciate it.