It is too easy to lose sight of the long term as you focus on delivering results this week. Here are five steps for turning your vision into action.
Will your business take actions this week that will help you deliver your long-term vision? No? How about this month? This quarter?
We recently worked with a client whose vision seemed to stop at the end of its collective nose. The client had a very "wild west" entrepreneurial sales culture, scrambling to achieve monthly and quarterly sales quotas. In the back office, people were executing a broad range of projects to improve their particular portion of the business without any overall theme or common direction.
Think of a rowing crew with no captain and no destination, in which every rower is working independently to row the boat as hard as he can, in every possible direction. Meanwhile, its competitors (suffering from no such lack of vision) are steadily encroaching on its business.
Sound familiar? Many businesses struggle with a lack of direction; the long-term vision gets swamped by the concerns and crises of the moment. In our client's case, a number of management changes (four CEOs in three years) helped create a lack of vision and a lack of coherent forward progress.
In our experience, too much of a short-term focus can lead to a toxic environment in which employees become less motivated and more cynical. Some may leave for greener pastures, while the rest do the best they can as the business drifts and slowly deteriorates. It takes a strong leader to pull such a business out of its downward spiral.
The business's newest CEO was just such a leader. He immediately took control of the business, immersed himself in it, and began fixing a number of operational and leadership issues. He also brought us in to help set the vision and to help him translate the vision into immediate, tangible action.
We used the following approach to tackle the problem:
1. Assess the Current State
We talked to many people in the organization, gathering facts and opinions about what was working well, what needed fixing, and what was completely broken. We placed every part of the business on a spectrum of Working, Bent, or Broken.
2. Align on Financial Goals
We worked with the executive to understand his long-term financial goals for the business. We then validated those goals by looking at its opportunities for penetration and cross-sell/upsell within its target customer base. We broke down its high-level goals into a specific set of year-by-year financial metrics, so that we could measure progress toward the goals.
3. Align on a Compelling Vision
Even when people are challenged to meet quarterly numbers, we find that they want to understand and rally behind a long-term vision. We developed three alternative visions of the future (and the pros and cons of each) and worked with the leadership team to align on the most compelling vision of the future. We then worked to "spread the gospel" to the organization, so that everyone understood and could rally to it.
4. Develop Long-Term Priorities and Initiatives
The organization had 30 or so initiatives already under way that were heading in various directions. We took the ones that were completely consistent with the vision and incorporated them into a coherent, prioritized set of initiatives. The others we cut off, because we did not want the organization pulled in competing directions or dissipating its energy on low-priority activities.
5. Build Confidence Through Near-Term Execution
Some of the initiatives were great ideas, but they had no momentum. We took over the initiatives that were both critical and lacking a head of steam and showed that with a lot of energy and elbow grease, we could deliver material impact quickly. These quick wins helped build overall momentum for our priorities and created a sense of inevitability around the vision.
Our work continues with the organization, and we have many obstacles to overcome, but momentum and inevitability around the vision are building, in part because we are showing action and quick results.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark