4 Steps to Define your Company Aspirations

December 15, 2010

A one-day, off-site meeting is the ideal place to develop your company aspirations. The goal for this meeting is to create your mission, vision, values, and priorities statements. All of the company’s senior leaders must be present.

This meeting will be most effective if there is an outside facilitator (someone who is familiar with the topic and is not part of the senior management team); however, many teams have created successful aspirations without the use of a facilitator. The day should be planned out as follows:

Step 1: Create Your Mission Statement

Your mission statement presents the broadest and longest perspective of the purpose of your organization (generally, the commitments that you are making to your key stakeholders).

Questions to ask while drafting your mission statement:

  • What is the purpose of the organization (why do you exist)?
  • What does the company aspire to be?
  • Who are the key stakeholders?
  • What promises are you making to the stakeholders?
  • How is your company distinguished from all of the others?
  • What are the company’s limits in terms of products, services, markets, and primary customers?
  • What does the company value or prioritize?

Questions to ask about your draft mission statement:

  • Is it clear and understandable to all stakeholders (is it easy to grasp)?
  • Does it make the right promises to the most important stakeholders?
  • Does it distinguish the company from all others?
  • Is it compelling to the key stakeholders (would you want to work for this company)?
  • Does it inspire support and ongoing commitment?
  • Does it motivate those who are important to the organization’s success?
  • Can it be shorter?
  • Are the verbs proactive?
  • Is it free of jargon?
  • Can it be easily memorized and repeated?
  • Will it serve the company well over time (is it broad enough to allow the company to evolve)?
  • Is it narrow enough to guide the key stakeholders and will it help avoid distractions?

Step 2: Define Your Vision

Your vision statement presents a vivid image of your organization’s future; it paints a picture of what you intend your company to look like in 1 to 5 years or longer. The vivid image serves as a target to help guide overall strategy and strategic and operating decisions, and also serves as a source of inspiration for everyone surrounding the organization.

Some managers tend to be very high level and esoteric with their attempts at writing a vision statement; others try to create too much detail. The best vision statements will be used to identify strategies, so they need to be descriptive enough about the long-term goals for your company, but they also should be as short and concise as possible.

Guidelines for drafting your vision statement:

Describe your future in a way that creates a vivid image.

  • What does the organization want to become?
  • What is your timeline for getting there?

A good pragmatic vision statement:

  • Offers measurable long-term goals
  • Defines the product-market focus
  • Defines your differentiation, how you will be uniquely valuable to your target customers
  • Gives a timeline

Questions to ask about your draft vision statement:

  • Is it clear and understandable to all stakeholders (is it easy to grasp)?
  • Is it unambiguous?
  • Does it describe a bright future for the company?
  • Does it stretch the current organization?
  • Is it vivid, powerful, valuable, attractive, and inspirational — does it make people feel proud and excited?
  • Does it distinguish the company from all others?
  • Does it:
    • Quantify the vision?
    • Define the product-market focus?
    • Give a timeline?
  • Can it be shorter?
  • Is it free of jargon?
  • Can it be easily memorized and repeated?
  • Is it narrow enough to guide the key stakeholders and will it help avoid distractions?
  • Does it align with the company’s mission and values?

Step 3: Articulate Your Values

Values are important and enduring beliefs or ideals shared by people in the company about what is valuable to consider when making decisions, taking action, and interacting with others. Values exert major influence on individual behaviors and serve as broad guidelines in all situations. Values represent the priorities in a company’s culture, including how the employees make decisions and act.

Unlike mission and vision statements, core values are generally more difficult to articulate. It will take significant focus, determination, and several iterations on your part before you are satisfied with the outcome. Also, unlike mission and vision statements, values are written in many different formats and sometimes take several pages to communicate.

Guidelines for drafting your values:

  • What values are important for the long-term success of the business (i.e., what values will give additional guidance to those involved with the company and significantly contribute to the success of the company’s mission and vision)?
  • What values are important to the people in the business?
  • Which of the values above are important to develop across the entire organization?
  • Take the values and draft them in a manner that reflects the company’s style and personality.

Questions to ask about your draft values:

  • Are the values clear and understandable to all stakeholders (i.e., are they easy to grasp)?
  • Are they important?
  • Are they the minimum necessary to communicate?
  • Will they offer guidance to the current organization?
  • Will people understand, appreciate, and incorporate them?
  • Do they distinguish the company from all others?
  • Are they free of jargon and written in a manner that fits the company?
  • Can they be easily memorized and repeated?
  • Are they narrow enough to help guide the key stakeholders and will they help avoid distractions?
  • Do they align with the company’s mission and vision and key people in the organization?

Step 4: Define Your Priorities

If you mention multiple stakeholders or have other ambiguity in your mission, vision, and values statements, you can clarify your priorities with a priorities statement.

Priorities statements are useful for helping guide decisions when the mission, vision, and value statements do not provide guidance (e.g., when a decision that would be good for one stakeholder would be at the expense of another stakeholder).

Example: OpenView
OpenView mentions portfolio companies, investors, and staff in its mission statement. The OpenView priority statement clarifies its priorities as follows:

  • Portfolio companies are our first priority
  • Firm/investors are our second priority
  • Individuals are our third priority

You should be able to get your senior management team to a level of agreement on your aspirations (mission, vision, values, and priorities) if you turn off your phones and computers, take out your flip charts, and work collaboratively over the course of one full day. Once you have general agreement on your aspirations, you can get a good sense of how they sound by asking each senior manager to present them aloud to the rest of the team at the end of the day. This will help you identify and fix any issues, reinforce the aspirations among each member of the senior team, and give everyone practice with presenting the aspirations.

A good way to finish the session is to go around the room and ask if each senior manager is committed to living the aspirations and communicating and reinforcing the aspirations with their staff. The process should not stop until you have a full commitment from each of the senior managers.

Founder & Partner

As the founder of OpenView, Scott focuses on distinctive business models and products that uniquely address a meaningful market pain point. This includes a broad interest in application and infrastructure companies, and businesses that are addressing the next generation of technology, including SaaS, cloud computing, mobile platforms, storage, networking, IT tools, and development tools.