“Vision starts from the answer to a simple question: What do I really want? or What do I want for this organization?”
The Corporate Mystic, Hendricks and Ludeman

Forty years ago, my first job was for a local Midwest family restaurant called Bill Knapp’s. Bill Knapp, the owner, was legendary for his insistence on quality and guest experience. Mr. Knapp educated his staff that to attain quality every step mattered: from the way the food was prepared in the commissary to how the kitchens were laid out to how the servers were dressed to how the food was delivered. As he got older he hired “experts” to take over the day-to-day operation of the company. They strayed from Mr. Knapp’s vision late in the 1990’s by bringing in pre packaged food and in 2000 the “experts” re-imagined the chain, which ultimately closed in 2002. (I still have not found a restaurant that can duplicate the Fried Chicken or Steak-burger.)

Photo by Surlygirl. Creative Commons license 2.0, some rights reserved.

Photo by Surlygirl. CC by 2.0.

I recently had the opportunity to work for Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, which, due to the visioning and servant leadership attitude of the leaders, was the best foodservice job I have ever had. The leaders took us through extensive training that gave the staff a clear, inspiring, and strategically sound vision statement.

Often a business will launch right into strategic planning without a clear documented vision, usually in an attempt to gain the initial capital. A plan without a vision is ultimately futile.

As co-founder of Zingerman’s Deli, Ari Weinzweig said, “… a vision is not a strategic plan. The vision articulates where we are going; the plan tells us how we’re actually going to get there. We start that planning work only after we’ve agreed on the vision. Creating a plan without a vision… Well, I just can’t quite figure how one does it. Imagine asking MapQuest to give you directions but not plugging in your desired destination.” (Creating a Company Vision)


A vision must be inspiring to everyone and it should give a clear picture of where everyone in the business unit is going. Often vision statements aren’t given the respect they deserve – as if they are just company swag for the wall not part of our everyday work life – and part of our eventual success or failure. Saying that the family van is going “west” and saying it is driving to “Colorado” are very different things. As Marr explains below, most vision statements are a vague as saying “we’re going places,” leaving the family in chaos and unsure what to pack in their suitcases.

Here is an example from Bernard Marr, “What The Hell is Wrong with…Mission and Vision Statements?”, of a company vision statement that in reality leads nowhere.

“Most mission and vision statements…are so generic that they provide no guidance whatsoever, or worse, confuse the hell out of people that before reading the statements were reasonably clear about the direction of the company.”

Volvo Vision: “By creating value for our customers, we create value for our shareholders.
We use our expertise to create transport-related products and services of superior
quality, safety and environmental care for demanding customers in selected segments.
We work with energy, passion and respect for the individual.”

Marr explains, “Do you feel in any way inspired now? Clear about what Volvo is trying to do? No, I didn’t think so. If you are a little like me then Volvo’s statement would have made you angry about wasting your time reading such cliché riddled drivel.”

Here, in the story Alice in Wonderland, poor Alice has no direction and nowhere to go:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh you’re sure to do that” said the Cat. “If you only walk long enough.”

Alice is going through the motions without any real knowledge of where she is going or why she is going there and what she will do once she arrive at some unknown end. One problem people have with vision is that it’s limited by what is and what was. A vision moves us out of this space and time into imagination of what could be. A good vision needs to seem possible and impossible at the same time. It needs to inspire and stretch while at the same time being clear. It needs to inspire.

An inspiring vision compels the company to work, it gives everyone clarity and a common language to work towards. An inspiring vision paints a picture of what things could look like at some point in the future. It should be written as if you are standing in the future and describing exactly what you see as you see it. Which works far better then standing in the present and describing the far off future.

So, rather then saying: “By June 2015 we will have processes in place for great wonder widget sales growth.”

Say: “It’s June 2015, the team is glad that the new process they all helped put in place for wonder widgets has improved productivity by 20% over the last 12 months. Wonder Widgets sales growth were written about last month in “Widget Monthly” because of the focus created by Widget vision 2015…”

Humans are natural story tellers. We like telling them and hearing them. Stories aid memory and empathy. Use that to your advantage and write your vision statement like a story.

But the vision isn’t just a list of goals; it’s a narrative that shows the organization’s future from the customer’s perspective. You’ve probably already seen vision stories that do this—like Apple’s “Knowledge Navigator” video from the late ’80s, or more recently Corning’s “A Day Made of Glass” and Microsoft’s “Productivity Future Vision.”

“One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” –Lewis Carroll


Zingerman’s Community of Businesses is vision rich, each department creates a vision as part of the annual yearly planning process, each company has a vision, and each partner writes their vision for their leadership. The visions are shared, published and made available to everyone. The visions are referred to and referenced.

As a Department co-manager I had the opportunity to participate in the Zingermans 2020 vision, and the making of Zingerman’s Deli’s 2015 vision, which set a clear direction for the company for the years ahead. Everyone knows, or has the ability to know, where the company is going and how each one can get us there. I saw first hand how these visioning exercises affected the culture of my workplace. As Ari said, “staff members feel calmer and more confident when they know what’s going on.”

Strategically Sound

A vision should actually have a chance of succeeding. It needs to be believable so people can see that they can get behind it.

“John F. Kennedy in 1961 talked about putting a man on the moon in this decade. And that was an idea that effected the behavior of thousands of people across dozens of organizations, for an extended period of years.” C. Heath


Write it down, make sure it is clearly written, have someone check your spelling and grammar. It is easier to get consensus when a vision is documented and made available. Each part of the business has a working copy of the vision, and it is often used for reference when decisions are being made.

In his post, Russ Starke looks at different ways of recording once the vision is published, at times creating comic books as a way of documenting the company vision;

“As a digital experience designer, I’ve found that a great way to confirm the importance, fit, and purpose of a project is to help clearly define the organization’s vision. This isn’t just about solidifying a mission statement; it’s about challenging stakeholders to construct a detailed story of their future success—defining what interacting with their company will be like in one, three, or even more than five years.

At my company, we’ve turned our clients’ vision stories into everything from presentation decks to comic books. However you format it, the vision should include the long-term goals you’re trying to reach, as well as smaller goals along the way. For example, a bank might set a vision that includes universal access to its services, with supporting points related to increasing the portability of the bank’s data, launching multi-device experiences, and expanding customer service hours.”


Tell your staff, hold meetings and workshops, get everyone involved in casing the vision, get input before it is rolled out, make sure it is the air the company or department breathes. As Dan Klyn says we at TUG are in the business of “making things be good.” That simple statement set the tone for all deliverables we share with our clients.

One good way to communicate your vision – what matters is that it is clear and written down. Clarity ensures understanding, and writing it down helps it to stand the test of time.

Ari writes, “Finally, it’s time to share the vision with everyone who will be involved in implementing it. When you roll out your vision to the bigger group, it’s inevitable that people will ask questions about how you intend to achieve the vision. They’re asking you about the how. The vision, however, is the what. It’s totally fine if you don’t know how you’re going to get there. Later, you will figure out the how.”

A communicated vision gives people an opportunity to ask questions. Allows people to express disagreement and gives a good leader an opportunity to clarify the vision.

Every function should have a vision for what the end looks like.

For more in-depth training:

ZingTrain has excellent resources, speakers, classes and information on vision creation and other material on Zingerman’s unique way of doing business.

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