The Ambiguity of Vision

By Jay Chandran.

Published by Management Education: An International Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This is a conceptual paper that examines the role of a well-conceived and clearly articulated vision statement in the long-term success of an organization. It is not based on empirical research, and its purpose is to provoke discussion rather than to provide answers. In that sense, it is an exploratory paper, and its methodology is primarily one of probing inquiry rather than systematic research. The role of visionary leaders in the success of organizations has been discussed in management literature for many years (Tichy & Devanna 1986, Bennis 1989, Nanus 1995, Collins and Porras 1991, 1996). The importance of articulating this vision in the form of a “vision statement”, and the ideal form and structure of such vision statements, are also topics that have been explored at length (Lipton 1996, Collins and Porras 1996). This paper takes another look at the construct of organizational vision, and examines whether a vision statement has a more central role to play in the long-term success of an organization than generally thought. It also examines whether a vision statement ought to be framed in the context of the broader global business environment. In many ways, this paper is a re-affirmation of what Lipton has stated in his seminal article on the subject, although it does differ conceptually in some respects, as explained later (Lipton 1996). In view of the increasing size and complexity of organizations world-wide, as well as increased diversity due to globalization, it is becoming harder for leaders to frame and articulate a unified organizational vision (Collins and Porras 1991). We thought this was an appropriate time to re-visit the subject. The conclusion reached in this paper is that the vision of an organization’s leaders and the clarity and effectiveness with which it is articulated are instrumental in an organization’s long term success. It argues that the measure of a good vision statement is not whether it reads well, has uplifting language or can be easily memorized, but whether (a) it is framed within the context of the changes taking place in the global environment; (b) it conjures up a desired state for the organization at a chosen point in time; and (c) it inspires a significant number of the employees to greater effort toward attaining that desired state.

Keywords: Vision, Leadership

Management Education: An International Journal, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp.1-10. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 568.833KB).

Dr. Jay Chandran

Professor and Department Chairperson, International Business Department, Northwood University, Midland, Michigan, USA

Dr. Chandran received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the University of South Florida in 1994. He has 12 years' experience in the Banking industry. He has taught at Northwood University since 1994, both at the Graduate and Undergraduate levels. He has been chair of the International Business Department since 1999, and Chair of the Management Department since 2009. His research interests are in the fields of Organizational Culture, Strategy, and International Business Education. He has published several articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and presented papers at academic conferences both in the U.S. and abroad.