The opinions expressed by the entrepreneurs are their own.
Companies have vision statements that summarize their values for a reason. employees who buy into your mission and vision tend to work harder for you, and according to the Dale Carnegie Institute, companies with engaged employees outperform their competitors by 202%. However, as the current focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) shows, times are changing. You need to update your vision to keep up with this new ESG focus, but just one word may be all you need to improve your relevance and impact.
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Concise and built into everything
Good vision statements are memorable. To achieve that memory, your best bet is to keep your new vision statement for the ECG as brief as possible.
Take Cisco. If they wrote something like “building voice over IP systems that use the most advanced Internet connectivity technologies, are the best in the industry, and return great value to our shareholders,” people probably wouldn’t say those words. more than a quick swipe before moving on to something more interesting. Their true vision of “changing the way we work, live, play and learn” is more substantive and free of jargon. It turns out that Cisco wants to be an agent of change and understands the importance of connectivity and communication in our world.
At Merchants Fleet, we first adhered to this rule of simplicity by consolidating multiple vision statements for different areas of business into just one: “Empowering the Free Movement of People, Goods and Services.” To update this later for ESG, we added one word: “responsibly”.
Once you have a concise vision statement that includes some ESG values, you’re not done. Then you need to go back and look at all of your company’s training and messaging. Are ESG values in there too?
Ensuring that the values are consistently visible in everything you do supports the vision statement as it shows your team that you are serious about ESG change and are going to follow it up with a real plan of action. Meanwhile, a concise vision statement helps employees understand why you approach training and messaging the way you do.
Related to: Why should companies think more strategically about their environmental impact?
Perspective and keeping promises is important
When we added the word “responsibly” to our vision to ensure it had an ESG focus, we recognized a critical point. “responsibly” means different things to different people.
If our business suddenly got rid of every gas car we own, it would seem responsible to customers who are fully behind electric cars, vans and trucks. But that would seem irresponsible for customers who don’t have many charging stations around or who have to travel distances that are still out of range for an electric vehicle (EV). For one of our customers, it didn’t make financial sense to try to install the infrastructure that EVs would require.
Likewise, the diversity profiles of our company in New Hampshire and Chicago are very different. In New Hampshire, our profile has 5% diversity, but this is higher than the New Hampshire average. We’re 45% diverse in Chicago, simply because that area is generally more diverse. Requiring 45% diversity seems responsible in Chicago, but nearly impossible in New Hampshire.
So when you’re adapting to an ECG, be careful to think carefully about the word or words you add and avoid absolutes, even when you’re aiming for something that’s still specific. The words must be acceptable and understandable on a broad level, but they must also be flexible enough to meet the needs and expectations of your entire base. They shouldn’t alienate anyone, including your employees.
Likewise, make sure your mission statement is realistic and achievable. If you choose a word that makes it impossible to keep your promise, customers will see that you don’t do what you say and will lose faith in you. Let’s say you’re an airline. If you add the phrase “on time” to your mission statement, you open the door to a huge number of complaints, because there are too many variables around airlines to promise that you will arrive perfectly at every time point. If you add “safe”, however, it’s much easier to achieve consistently.
Best practice is to aim for something that is timeless and a little better than what you had. Leave buzzwords and trends on the shelf, because the more you change your vision statement, the less memorable or sticky it will be.
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The journey, the action and the responsibility continue
Given that there is a connection between your ESG vision statement and your company’s practices, think of your vision as a continuous journey. Review it regularly to make sure it’s still working correctly for you.
Every time you tweak your ad and add more words, make sure you have an execution plan and accountability. When we added “responsibly” to Merchants Fleet’s vision statement, we were clear that we were adding an ESG team. But your steps may also include reorganization, more training, or developing restraints and balance. Expect to summarize what you do and the results you get along the way in reports. The rule is to understand that you are signing up to develop new goals and take additional actions as you add them.
Related to: Why ESG companies are better equipped to weather an economic storm?
ECG can provide both stability and positive change
While ESG gets more press than it used to, it’s something that big companies have always practiced, and the need to connect your ethics to your actions will always be relevant. ESG values can powerfully underpin your business across multiple generations. At the same time, they can help you continually explore how you can become a greater help to everyone around you. If you integrate those values into your vision statement, which is the foundation for everything you do, you will get the positive change you need to make the positive change you want.