The Vision describes the organization three years from now, answering the question “where are we going?” in a way that makes us want to get there.
Vision is not the same as a Mission statement. The Mission statement says what the company does for which sets of customers. In contrast, the Vision describes what kind of company does that, and how well it does it.
A good Vision inspires and motivates the employees, provides the basis for goals, and leads to the strategy to achieve them. Most importantly, it sets the expectations of all stakeholders, and aligns employee efforts. Bankers and investors are not the only audience. Employees, customers, suppliers, and the community are all anxious to know what the company will become. They all have a stake in its success.
Even in a small business, the owner needs to decide what success will look like. The owner’s Vision is the basis for deciding the company’s target markets, product development, distribution, technical skills, staffing, and financing. For example, a Product Roadmap (see Product Strategy: Product Roadmap | Thomas H. Gray – Consultant, CEO, Director) implies guidance by a Vision of some sort. As the Cheshire Cat famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
Why Would We Want To Get There?
A good Vision inspires when it is rooted both in reality and in the values and aspirations of the employees.
- “Rooted in reality” means the Vision takes into account both external trends (e.g. technology, demographics, economics) and internal strengths and weaknesses vs. competitors, and takes an objective view rather than wishful thinking. It starts with building the realization that change is needed – staying the same is a losing proposition.
- “Rooted in values and aspirations” means the Vision describes a company one wants to work for, one that does good and does well at the same time. It has emotional appeal. It says more than “maximize profits”.
- To be inspiring, a Vision must be positive. It must describe “a better place” we are going to. For example, “beat the competition” or “lower deficits” are negative, while ideas like “reinvent the industry” and “spread good nutrition worldwide” are positive.
- “Rooted in reality” also means the Vision must show a reasonable road to achieve the better outcome. It builds on the organization’s culture and strengths. A challenge perceived as impossible is demoralizing, not inspiring.
The literature is unanimous in designating the Leader as the one responsible for creating and articulating the Vision, communicating it, and gaining buy-in from employees and all the other stakeholders. This applies to leaders of companies, non-profits, functional organizations, and even nations.
How to Develop a Vision: Team and Form
We know the leader must produce a Vision, but how does he or she do it? Does he ascend a mountain alone, hoping to come down with the Vision engraved on tablets? Does he look it up on the Internet?
The first technique in developing a Vision is to do it as a team. Since buy-in is crucial to a successful Vision, a solo approach is not likely to be the right answer. The team who must buy-in must also have a role in developing the Vision. The Leader can then “create the Vision” by leading the discussion and declaring his or her synthesis of the team’s thinking.
In addition to “who develops it”, the other major question is “what does a Vision look like?” Is it a slogan? Is it a cryptic sentence? Is it an elevator speech? Is it as long as a blog post, or longer?
The second technique is to state the Vision in both short and long forms. Since a Vision describes the company three years from now, a short Vision statement (e.g. “the leading widget-maker in the USA”) is not clear enough to ensure alignment among the employees. To really communicate, it must be explained by brief statements about various aspects of the company as it will be at that future point. See the next post for what we mean by “aspects of the company”.
A simple short Vision statement runs the risk that each listener will define it their own way, buying in to their own different Visions, wasting the opportunity for alignment, setting the stage for future disputes which undermine the focus critical for success.
The next article describes a technique for Vision development has been effective in more than a dozen organizations.
Tom Gray helps owners save and grow their companies. He is a management consultant focused on small business and telecom, a Certified Turnaround Professional (CTP), a Certified Business Development Advisor, and a Certified SCORE Mentor. He can be reached at 630-512-0406 or email@example.com. See www.tom-gray.com
Small Business Techniques, Vision Development
Tags: Vision Development: The Leader’s Role