The Anatomy of a Great Vision

How to Develop a Vision That Motivates Your Team

“If nobody knows what the vision and direction and goals are, then employees have nothing to serve but themselves.” -Ken Blanchard, Author of The One Minute Manager

Every great brand story starts with a Mission Statement. Take Tom’s Shoes, Red Bull, or Blooom as an example.

But articulating your “Why” is just one step of building a great company. While your mission may be inspiring for customers, your team needs more direction. They need a vision.

In the book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins argues that a strong vision is critical to long term success. It tells your team where the company is going and what the priorities are, even when strategies change.

A vision tells your team where the company is going and what the priorities are, even when strategies change.

Creating a vision statement can be tough though. How does it differ from a mission statement? What’s the difference between a vision and a strategy?

I’ve summarized some of Collin’s ideas about creating a strong vision statement. Below is a blueprint for how you can create or improve your company’s vision. For a deeper analysis, I highly suggest reading Built to Last or Collin’s HBR article on the subject.

The Vision Formula

In Build to Last, Collins uses examples of vision statements from some of the world’s great companies (Disney, Sony, Merck). He breaks down Vision into a simple formula:

Vision = Core Ideology + Envisioned Future

Core Ideology

Core Ideology is made of up two parts: Core Values and Core Purpose.

Core Values are those guiding principles that will never change about your company. They should be cultivated for their own sake. For Walt Disney, imagination and wholesomeness were values his company pursued no matter what.

Core Purpose, according to Collins, is “a company’s most fundamental reason for being”. Disney’s purpose was to create happiness. The company’s strategy began with cartoons, but today we see dozens of ways the company still acts on its purpose. From theme parks to Star Wars, they are in the happiness business.

Collins says this about Core Ideology:

You do not create or set core ideology. You discover core ideology. You do not deduce it by looking at the external environment. You understand it by looking inside.

Along with providing inspiration, your core ideology can help your team make better decisions. A Disney employee only needs to ask, “Does this make people happy?” to make the right decision most of the time.

Envisioned Future

Collins says an Envisioned Future is made up of a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and a Vivid Description.

A BHAG is a huge — but specific — goal that should take between 10 and 30 years to accomplish. Collins says, “A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as a unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a catalyst for team spirit.”

In the 1950’s, Sony BHAG was to “become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products.”

BHAG’s on their own can be ambiguous. That’s why Sony also included a vivid description along with their goal: “

“Fifty years from now, our brand name will be as well known as any in the world…and will signify innovation and quality… ‘Made in Japan’ will mean something fine, not something shoddy.”

A vivid description helps make the BHAG memorable. It’s a picture of what the world will look like when you reach your goal. It is literally the future envisioned.

It takes guts and a little hubris to dream this big. But giant goals gives your team a direction and helps them think long-term. Everything Sony did in the 20th Century was in service to their BHAG. We all see the results today.

Putting it All Together

In the end, you should have a 1-page Vision Statement that consists of the following:

Core Ideology

Core Values

3–5 inalienable principles

Core Purpose

Your reason for existence

Envisioned Future


Clear, descriptive goal that will take 10–30 years to accomplish

Vivid Description

A picture of your envisioned future. What will the world look like when you succeed?

Making your Vision Sticky

Once your Vision Statement is complete, you need to make sure it sticks with your team.

Ken Blanchard shared a story on the Building a Storybrand Podcast about a lunch he had with Max De Pree, the legendary chairman of the design company Herman Miller.

Ken asked, “What’s your job as chairman of this great company?”
Max replied, “Ken, I have to be like a third grade teacher. I have to say the vision and values over and over and over again, until people get it right, right, right.”

You can’t just create your vision and let it sit its document. You need to communicate it constantly to your team.

Call to Action

Do you have a Vision, a core ideology, or a BHAG? If so, I’d love to hear it. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to this stuff. Let’s talk about giant goals!