Twenty years ago, I was writing a speech for a CEO. He was to be speaking at a meeting of what one might call critics, at various stages of friendliness toward the company. He didn’t really have a good grasp as to what his subject should be, and we had gone through a series of discussions of ideas submitted by me and a lot of others.
He wanted to make a statement that would tell the audience that he understood their concerns, that he identified with their concerns, and that he was doing something to address them. Other company executives had come forward with plans and proposals, but the price tags were potentially horrendous. He was taken with several of the ideas, but he balked at the cost (and his investors would balk, too, if they saw the estimates).
His challenge to me was this: is there a soft path to get to the hard decisions? Could we chart a course that would get to where we needed to go?
And I wasn’t to talk with anyone about what he had asked me to do.
The project was one of the most intense writing assignments I’ve ever undertaken. I read and researched. I wrote draft after draft. I read and researched some more. I finally reached a point where I was ready to submit a draft to him.
As the text of the speech draft moved toward conclusion, I had included what I thought was a rhetorical device – a repetition of a phrase that summarized the ideas expressed in the speech. The phrase was “It is our pledge,” and I used it seven times to express seven ideas and imply seven commitments.
He didn’t call it this, and I didn’t call it this, but essentially what he had asked me to do was to write a statement of vision for the company – a vision of what might be and what could be. Previously, all we had were financial goals.
He gave the speech. It became known as “The Pledge.” It upended the company and the industry.
Rereading it now, it’s still oddly current. But I realize something about it now that I didn’t understand then. It is not a “religious” statement by any stretch of the imagination. But it is shot through with Biblical principles, principles like stewardship, honoring God, loving your neighbor and sacrificial acts.
And I realized that, acknowledged or not, all vision statements I’ve ever seen come from the same source. It’s as if we’re all, in one way or another, attempting to reach toward the standards and the promise God offers in the Bible.
(Over at the High Callings Blogs, we’re discussing John D. Beckett’s Loving Monday: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul. The discussion is led by Laura Boggess. This week, we’re focused on chapters 18 through 21, covering the ideas of work-family balance, prayer for business, vision and values. Check here for last week’s discussion.)
Join this week's discussion at the High Calling Blogs: Tightrope.
Monica Sharman's Vision and Balance.
Lyla Lindquist's Why Family Matters.
L.L. Barkat's How We Fall Apart.
Funny, how these vision statements work out.
The very best ones can become living documents when everyone from the CEO down demonstrates the vision through effort and belief in what they're doing and why they're doing it. Many, if not most, such statements, unfortunately -- and despite all the effort that goes into preparing them -- get trotted out in some report once year, are used as "feel good" but meaningless boilerplate, or are tossed in the circular file.
We can understand so much about a company through the eyes and hands of its workforce and leadership. . . and how it lives out -- or doesn't -- the principles you mention here. Writing those principles down codifies them but is no guarantee of their realization.
That's because that's where all the Good Stuff comes from!
Enjoyed this post, Glynn. One of the things I'm doing in the club post tomorrow is challenging individuals to write a vision statement. Sounds like you have good practice.
I struggled with this one. Refreshing to read your story in the context. I think you have one for every occasion :)
Brownies do it.
I like the idea of pledge. Like the stewardship it represents.
Like what you wrote.
How true... You are bringing up an interesting point - that everything that is good, and true, and honest and inspiring about a business is really spiritual in nature.
"A soft path to hard decisions". That's something missing in my business for sure. "Slash and burn" has nothing soft to it! I see it all around. Oh, for a more compassionate business world!
I so admire the integrity you bring to life ...
I really, really admire you for the work you do, Glynn. And I think everyone could use a good vision statement.
Chewing my cud on this post. Shoulda been a cow.
That boss was fortunate to have your clarity.
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