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Companies have vision statements that summarize their values for a reason: Employees who endorse your mission and vision tend to work harder for you, and according to the Dale Carnegie Institute, companies work with engaged employees outperform competitors by 202%. But as the current focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) shows, times are changing. You will need to update your vision to keep pace with this new ESG focus, but just one word can be enough to increase your relevance and influence.
Related: Vision Statements: Why You Need One and How to Make One
Short and built into everything
Good vision statements are memorable. To achieve that memorability, it is best to keep your new ESG-oriented vision statement as short as possible.
Take Cisco. If they had written something like “to build voice over IP systems that leverage the most advanced internet connectivity technologies, are the best in the industry and deliver great value to our shareholders” people probably wouldn’t have said the words more than a quick flight before moving on to something more interesting. Their real vision, “changing the way we work, live, play and learn”, is more to the point and free of jargon. It comes across that Cisco wants to be a change agent and understands the importance of connection and communication in our world.
At Merchants Fleet, we first adhered to this rule of simplicity by merging the multiple vision statements we had for different areas of the business into just one vision: “Enable the free movement of people, goods and services.” To update this later for ESG, we added a single word: ‘responsible’.
Once you have a concise vision statement that incorporates some ESG values, you’re not done yet. You then need to go back and look at all the training and posts your company has. Are the ESG values also there?
Ensuring that the values are consistently visible in everything you do supports the adoption of the vision statement, as it shows your team that you take the ESG turnaround seriously and that you will follow up with a real action plan. At the same time, the concise vision statement helps employees understand why you approach training and messaging the way you are.
Related: Why companies need to think more strategically about their environmental impact
Perspective and keeping promises are important
When we added the word ‘responsible’ to our vision to ensure it had an ESG focus, we recognized a crucial point: ‘responsible’ means different things to different people.
If our company suddenly got rid of all the gas-powered vehicles we have, it would seem responsible for customers who fully support electric cars, vans and trucks. But it seems irresponsible for customers who have few charging stations nearby or who have to travel distances that are still beyond the reach of an electric car (EV). For one of our customers, it didn’t make financial sense to try and install the infrastructure for electric cars.
Similarly, our company’s diversity profiles in New Hampshire and Chicago are very different. In New Hampshire, our profile is at 5% diversity, but that’s higher than the New Hampshire average. In Chicago, we are 45% diverse, simply because that area is generally more diverse. Demanding 45% diversity seems reasonable in Chicago, but nearly impossible in New Hampshire.
So when adjusting for ESG, make sure you think through the word or words you add and avoid absolutes, even if you insist on something that is still specific. The words should be broadly acceptable and understandable, but they should also be flexible enough to still meet the needs and expectations of your entire audience. They must not alienate anyone, including your employees.
Also, 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 said and lose confidence in you. Suppose you are an airline. Adding the phrase “on time” to your mission statement would open the door to a huge number of complaints, because there are just too many variables in airlines to promise you’ll make it every time perfectly. However, adding “safe” makes that much easier to achieve consistently.
The best practice is to aim for something 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 tacky it will be.
Related: Three letters that make your company more successful and sustainable
The journey, action, and accountability are all underway
Keep in mind that there is a connection between your ESG vision statement and your company’s practices, and think of your vision statement as an ongoing journey. Revisit it regularly to make sure it still works for you in an authentic way.
Each time you adjust your statement and add more words, make sure you have an execution plan and accountability. When we added “responsible” to the Merchants Fleet vision statement, it was clear that we were adding an ESG team. But your movements can also reorganize, do more training or develop checks and balances. Along the way, expect to summarize what you do and the results you get in reports. The rule is to understand that you sign up to develop new goals and take additional action with whatever you add.
Related: Why ESG companies are better equipped to weather an economic storm
ESG can deliver both stability and positive change
Even though ESG is getting more attention than it used to be, it’s something big companies have always practiced, and the need to link your ethics to your action will always be relevant. ESG values can powerfully support your business across generations. At the same time, they can help you continuously explore how you can still grow to be a greater help to everyone around you. Integrating those values into your vision, which underpins everything you do, will give you the support you need to make the positive change you want.