Creating a Vision That Pulls Your Company Forward
Re-Imagining New Leadership Possibilities in 2014
Yet, in my 30 years experience of working with leadership teams and companies, the terms “vision,” “mission” and “values” are THE most overused, misunderstood and abused words in the business community today.
Vision statements, mission statements and strategic plans in many companies reduce to mere academic exercises with no real value in driving an organization forward. Why? Let’s take a look.
Why Most Company Visions Get an “F”: The Big 3
- Your company’s vision lacks the necessary specificity and inspiration to pull your company forward.That is, your vision lacks intentionality, concreteness and emotional teeth on a gut level in what you really want to achieve and who you need to become in the process.Powerful visions grab and motivate people toward your desired future. Weak visions are meaningless superlatives or vague language that have no energy and fall flat on your organization. How would you rate your vision?
- Your vision lacks commitment and “ownership.”There is a big difference between wanting vs. deciding a desired future.One is built on hope and maybe’s. The other is backed by 100% commitment to the outcome.The word decide in its Latin root form means to cut off all other possibilities. While none of us can guarantee our future, owning your future will make it a reality. Have you chosen to go the distance, no matter the obstacles?
- Your vision lacks the necessary leadership capacity and infrastructure to drive that vision into everyday activities.While passion, specificity and commitment are all prerequisites for a successful vision, your leadership and organizational capabilities must be at the necessary level to drive it.In the words of Thoreau, “For things to change, we must change.” The leader and organization you are today cannot take you to where you want to be tomorrow. This often missed piece is why most companies’ visions fail.
Examples of Poorly Designed Company Visions — Can you guess the company?
Before we address the essential ingredients to a well-designed vision, let’s first look at examples of what not to do.
Example 1: “To be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in markets we serve.”
This vision is generic, lacks specificity, is loaded with meaningless puff words, that it could be any company in the computer industry.
Who is this mystery company? Dell Computers.
Example 2: “Undisputed Marketplace Leadership.”
Yes, a well known company has adopted this vision statement to drive its future direction. While it may sound nice as a tagline, it gets the award for pointless generic buzzwords that really say nothing. The company? Hershey.
Both of these visions are sadly bland and generic that they could have been thought of by high school students as a homework exercise for their economics project. It is not what you would expect from experienced senior leaders of well known companies.
The “Secret Sauce” to Highly Successful Visions: 7 Essential Ingredients How
A company’s vision is like a beautiful work of art. It’s personal and it connects with you and everyone in your organization deeply.
The capability to create such a vision is THE single most important responsibility of a leader and a leadership team.
For your company’s vision to succeed, however, it requires more than a good feeling. What you need in addition is:
Secret 1: A compelling vision that wins the hearts and minds of employees, resulting in buy-in and commitment.
According to the dictionary, the word compelling means urgently requiring attention; arousing interest in an irresistible manner.
Compelling visions move employees to action with a sense of urgency, change their behaviors, give meaning to their work and inspire them to reach new levels in their own potential.
Secret 2: A clear vision that ignites your senses – ie., a vision you can see, hear and feel – to internalize and make it real.
A clear vision should ignite the imagination. Generating passion about your company’s vision is a right brain activity, igniting the emotional center of your brain.
Most companies’ visions are defined in intellectual, abstract and/or quantifiable terms While quantifiable outcomes are important later, they don’t motivate people to action.
In order for your vision to excite employees and pull your company forward, it must be described in clear sensory language. The question to ask yourself is …
As you imagine your company’s new future, what do you see, hear and feel in your mind’s eye that tells you that new future has been realized?
Secret 3: A big vision that challenges you to bold heights.
Big, bold goals are actually easier, more fulfilling and a heck more exciting to achieve than small goals.
Yet most business leaders get stuck in small thinking because:
- They lack confidence.
- They focus on today and what’s not working, rather than on the future and what can be.
- They have no experience with big and can’t even imagine how to conceive a big bold vision.
- They are overwhelmed with short term demands at the expense of long term possibilities.
The reasons why big visions are easier? Because they challenge status quo thinking. They force you to go beyond your comfort zone. They stir passions and motivations. Bold visions also catalyze new creative thinking. And, most importantly, thinking big actually eliminates impossibilities.
Secret 4: A shared vision that creates synergies, buy-in and cohesion.
Failed visions are usually created by a few leaders at the top. A successful vision represents the entire voice of your company. Your employees want to participate in a bigger cause and be involved in the creation and execution process.
The big challenge for business leaders is to create a vision that incorporates the wants, needs and aspirations of those who will be tasked with achieving it — your employees. Your company’s vision must articulate … what’s in it for them?
Despite what many leaders think, the collaborative process of envisioning with your employees is more important than the actual vision product. If you hear your employees saying “That’s my vision too” or at least feel like they influenced it, only then do you have a shared vision.
Secret 5: A concrete vision aligned with your values and purpose.
Your vision is only one stepping stone to a new future. Your values are your compass of how to get there. Your purpose articulates the bigger cause or why your business exist.
While having a vision, purpose and clearly articulated values are the first step, the alignment of these 3 foundational elements is what determines success or failure of your vision.
As best selling author, Jim Collins, notes: There is a big difference between being an organization with a vision statement and being a truly visionary company.
The difference lies in alignment. The best use of an executive retreat at this time of the year is to look at alignment issues and your plan for eliminating them.
Secret 6: A concrete vision with “feet.”
Strong visions must also be strategically sound. They must be concrete, tangible and have a clear proof of success.
When I work with executive teams in formulating their vision, I ask them to address critical strategic questions as part of their vision to give it “feet.” Such as …
- What obstacles and challenges did your company have to overcome to achieve your vision? What did you have to do extraordinarily well?
- What “enemies” (external or internal) did you have to defeat along the way?
- What do your competitors now envy the most about you?
- What new boundaries … ie, what you said ‘yes’ and what you said ‘no’ … did you need to have in place?
Secret 7: A memorable vision that tells a story.
To create a powerful vision, you must articulate it as an unfolding story – both about the destination and the journey.
Why a story, not a statement? Most visioning and vision statements miss the pathos element, or emotional connection. If I got $5 each time a company’s vision declared becoming the employer of choice or a talent magnet, I would have retired a long time ago :).
Vision stories, however, unite, create trust, are easy to remember and are transformative. Great vision stories reveal the hero within us all.
What is the future vision story that your leadership team will write that ignites the energy and the emotion to sustain action on days even when nothing seems worth it?
Contact me for specific resources to get started on your memorable vision story.
As your leadership team gets ready for 2014, may you get started writing your magnum opus company’s future story. May your visions allow you and your company to become larger than what you ever thought was possible. Happy 2014!
Denise Corcoran – CEO, The Empowered BusinessTM – helps growth-seeking companies develop game-changing leadership teams and organizations that drive and sustain profitable growth by design. Denise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.empoweredbusiness.com.