Have you got Vision? Looking into the Heart and Soul of your Business – Part Two

By Ronald L. Burgess –  February 2000

Have you got Vision? Looking into the Heart and Soul of your Business – Part Two

Glasses for Your Vision Statement-How to Get Some! Part Two

Creating a “real” vision for a company can be a difficult experience. “Real” means a vision that describes the heart and soul of a business, not just a statement on a wall with rah-rah posters that make a mockery of a poorly thought through vision statement.

It has been said that management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing. A good vision statement defines the right thing for a company.

Some management gurus see vision statement development as an 80’s trend that has run its course. Even Tom Peters seems to have reversed himself on the issue. However, the great companies that I see, whether formal or informal, seem to understand who they are, what they are about and where they are going. A statement to formally communicate those issues can’t hurt the business. Better communication never does go in and out of fashion based on current management trends.

What makes some companies better? Clearly it’s the leadership. Leadership that injects a passion for certain characteristics that the market finds attractive and will pay for. The market constantly compares and buys value (value is the combination of quality, service, image and price). It looks for companies that are socially responsible (or not socially irresponsible) and it prefers to do business where a relationship exists. Those characteristics are best delivered by employees who are motivated to provide them.

Employees reach for ideals that are larger than themselves and seen as beneficial to life in general and themselves in particular. The vision statement helps define and communicate a company’s direction and future. Core values set the standards that each associate should abide by.

Many if not most great leaders set the tone of vision and values based on a genuine sense for the spirit of competition, pride of producing quality products, or a sense of serving customers; the quest to be the best. The vision statement simply communicates this.

For companies that lack passion, the task is more difficult. Many companies are a result of the owner or founder’s need to make a living. These companies, motivated by profit alone, can become hollow without soul. These companies can survive, given a lucky market environment, but they are never great companies and they add little to society.

Communicating a vision and values that may add to the business and society may sound like a utopian notion; in fact building a company that is passionate about quality and motivates employees to excellence is also good business. Several research sources clearly illustrate that companies that are perceived as better, in fact enjoy higher profits, growth rates, and return on investment. Extra benefits are accrued in employee satisfaction, social contribution and even life changing contributions to standard of living and society as a whole.

The company with leadership that does have passion may lack communication of the vision, thus the reason for development. Some companies have a passion for quality and service, but have not articulated the future, leaving the employees wondering how they fit into the whole picture.

Put on the glasses

If you are CEO or the owner of a company, what are your deep desires for the future? Are you motivated by money? Or want to leave a legacy? Or interested in fulfilled relationships? These characteristics can form the basis for how a company operates and what types of goals are set.

One successful insurance agency I know is genuinely motivated by helping people. This company is structured to offer substantial service beyond what average agents offer, without regard for the cost (but mindful of the economics of providing the service). With a plethora of insurance agents as competition, this company communicates real purpose and attempts to provide extraordinary service. Their success is assured, and it can grow as large as the infrastructure; but the focus is on growing only large enough to maximize services to clients, not profit. Building visions and values statements are never cookie-cutter projects (see December 1999 Corner on the Market); but here are some questions to get you started.

  1. Define where your business is going, not in terms of volume size but positioning in your market. General Electric Company, known as one of the best run companies in the world, has a hard rule about positioning. Only divisions and products that have a market position of number one or two are kept, the remaining are sold. They know from research that the likelihood of superior returns is higher for products with a dominant market position. They build value in their products specifically to achieve those goals. Smaller companies can define their position based on image in the market, relative size to competition or goals that achieve economic cost savings, which will be used to finance customer value.
  2. Define your vision based on how your customers will be treated. Companies that constantly try to WOW experiences for customers know how hard this is, yet the attempt can create some incredible results.
  3. Define your vision based on the quality, craftsmanship or delivery of products and services.
  4. Define your vision based on what the company wants to provide employees. Companies must provide value to customers to survive, but companies that try to create more than a paycheck for employees seem to add more to society and assure that value will continually be provided over the long haul. Employees spend more time at work than any other activity, providing training or environment or other life enriching activities can truly have an impact.
  5. Define your vision based on the innovation to be achieved. In our rapidly changing technological environment, the integration of computers, the Internet and other new technology will touch most businesses. Only companies that evolve will survive. What type of culture for constructive change is important to your business?
  6. Define your vision based on the prestige or aesthetics to be achieved or maintained. Who wants to buy from the mediocre company? Who wants to work for the mediocre company other than Mr. Mediocre? Aim for something higher.

It is always better to take the time to build the real vision rather than whip something together because you want to have a Vision Statement on your wall. Changing a vision statement around the edges, over many years, may be appropriate; but a constantly changing vision statement only indicates entrepreneurial indecision and signals the coming of frustration and discontent from employees.

Ron L. Burgess is President of Burgess Management Consultants, a small business consultancy, specializing in marketing resource management and technology.

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