Defining a Mission & Vision Statement for Your Design Firm

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A vision statement and a mission statement are critical for guiding and growing your firm. Learn how to develop these two small but mighty tools and get your team on board.

by Dr. Steven Austin Stovall

Signs of an improving economy are popping up around us. Given the more optimistic economic climate, now is the time to renew your focus on not only the here-and-now of your design firm, but the future, as well.

Doing this requires taking a hard look at how you see your business moving forward. The key is to establish a well thought-out vision that sets the business on the right path—one that all your associates can get on board with. Whether you’re a freelancer, a manager of an in-house design team or a principal, you need a first-rate vision—and you need to take some steps to make sure that vision isn’t just an hallucination.

An hallucination is a false impression—something completely nonexistent but that seems genuine at first. It lasts only a short time, and once it’s gone, people really are not certain what it was or if it was even something real.

A vision, on the other hand, is grounded in reality. It lasts. And if everyone believes in it, it can be powerful. Think about your firm. Do you have a solid vision that everyone can get behind? Or is it something that manifests itself occasionally, leaving your staff to wonder whether it’s real or imaginary?

DEFINING MISSION VS. VISION

The foundation for any organization is well-written mission and vision statements. The problem for managers is that it’s easy to confuse the two. They’re not interchangeable, but they do build upon one another. And they’re absolutely essential for any business to grow and prosper.

Think of a mission statement as a snapshot of your business. It defi nes who you are. A very basic one might be “Stovall Design Pros provides quality consulting in a prompt, courteous manner to clients while delivering exceptional customer service.” The focus of this mission statement is service. Stovall Design Pros has an emphasis on ensuring that the consulting and work provided has a high degree of quality and that clients will receive superb service.

Perhaps your mission is simply to work exclusively with big-name clients, or to provide a fun office environment for your employees. Basically, a mission statement encompasses what’s important to your design firm in defining who you are and what you value.

Vision statements are much more than a portrait of your company; they describe where your organization is going. A vision becomes a roadmap for operations and success. Visions are as diverse as the number of designers. A very simple vision statement might be “Stovall Design Pros will become the No. 1 design company in the Dallas area while outpacing competitors by providing innovative ideas and services.” This statement clearly shows where the firm is going.

Being recognized in a specific geographic area is important to this practice, so it’s mentioned first. Competition is also key, so it’s captured in terms of innovation. Remember, the goal is to develop a unique direction for your firm. You may value the latest software or customer service. Another designer may espouse their pursuit of luxurious offices or a metropolitan location.

A vision isn’t a “nice-to-have”—it’s a must-have so you don’t lose alliances with clients, struggle unnecessarily or, in the worst case, find yourself in bankruptcy.

ESTABLISHING YOUR VISION

When writing or updating your vision statement, there are three things you have to keep in mind. First, a true direction-defining vision is one that you can readily get behind and believe to be the fundamental path for your organization. Too many managers write vision statements that sound good but have very little personalized meaning. Yours should be one that’s developed by, about and for your firm. Avoid searching the web for one that has a poetic feel to it. Think about your firm and identify the key success factors of it in the future. Rely on your intuition, your objectives and your own plans, not someone else’s.

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Second, writing a vision statement takes time. Even if you’re fortunate enough to develop a vision relatively quickly, set it aside for awhile. Think about what you’ve written, and after a few days, examine it further.

Ask yourself if there’s anything you would phrase differently. How can you rewrite it? Does it say everything you want it to say? Does it say too much? Is it something you can live with over time? Think it through.

Also, while a mission statement is written in present tense, a vision statement should reflect where you’ll be in the future. So, use words such as “will be,” “going to be” and “become.”

Third, vision-making is participatory in nature, so it’s crucial to involve your team as you’re crafting yours. As the person in the driver’s seat, you’re the force behind the vision, but if you can get your team onboard, the vision becomes a powerful document. It’s also important to get their buy-in, which means that not only are they involved, but they also accept and are motivated by your vision statement. Even though vision-crafting seems to be a solo endeavor, remember that your associates are a significant component to your business and that their input can be extremely valuable. And people naturally accept things they have a direct part in creating.

Without a superbly crafted vision statement, your team is a ship without a rudder.

PUTTING YOUR VISION TO WORK

Just as getting buy-in to vision-development is critical, keeping that vision a part of daily operations is paramount. Here are some tips for keeping your visionfrom becoming a hallucination.

Post your vision. You can’t expect your employees to remember your vision if they don’t see it every day. Post it in your offices. Place it in the lunchroom. Print it on the back of business cards. Put it on your invoices. In other words, make sure there’s no doubt what your vision is or where your employees can find it. You don’t want employees to wonder where the business is going. It’s taking steps like these that move a firm from mediocrity to excellence.

Talk about your vision. In meetings with associates, make sure you tie in the day’s or week’s activities to the vision of your company. This proves to your staff (and to yourself) that the vision statement you have so carefully crafted is more than a writing exercise done once and forgotten. Never pass up an opportunity to work in the importance and power of your vision statement. Not only does this keep it at the forefront of your associates’ thoughts, but it’s a constant reminder for you, as well.

Be the vision. As the creative leader, you must become the epitome of what your vision statement embodies. It shows in the way that you conduct business, the ethics you champion, and how clients and employees are treated. If your design practice is being built upon what your vision expresses, you’ll have no difficulty in this endeavor. Employees watch you when you may not be aware of it. They’ll see that you’re diligently pursuing the vision that has been established. What’s more, they’ll emulate you and your behaviors. Ensure that they’re embodying the right characteristics by consistently operating in a manner that’s in line with your vision statement.

Carolina Rogoll’s course, Brand Building 101: How to Build, Manage and Market a Brand, expounds on the process of creating a brand vision and mission. Rogoll teaches on the Star Brand Model, a unique framework that captures the best of management, marketing and practical theory from a real practitioner.

FINE-TUNING YOUR VISION

Clearly, capturing a vision reflective of everything presented here isn’t easy. It takes time, effort and, most important, commitment. If you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t have a coherent vision for the team,” you’re in a perfect position to start from scratch.

If, however, you have a well-formed vision, but it no longer seems to be the driving force of your firm, it’s time for re-evaluation. Ask yourself, “What’s not right about my vision statement?” Or if it does mirror your idea of the vision for your business, but no one seems to be aware of it, start taking steps to educate your team and remind them of where you see things going.

Think about your own vision-crafting. Do you have a clear, easy-to-understand vision statement? Do you have employees’ buy-in? And, more important, do you believe in your vision statement? If none of these apply, it’s definitely time to make some changes.

Dr. Steven Austin Stovall is professor of management at Wilmington College in Wilmington, OH. He’s also a consultant and trainer on all aspects of management and marketing.


This article was originally featured in HOW Magazine. Check out HOW’s latest issue or subscribe to find more career advice and inspiration.

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