You know you have a vision for your company. So why are so many employees unsure what it is?
What is a vision? A vision is a vivid aspiration regarding what positive impact you want to make on the world. It articulates the difference you hope to make to your key constituencies (e.g. customers). It describes what the world would lose if you didn’t exist. It gives you and your organization a reason to jump out of bed in the morning, and it’s what you would want to tell your grandkids one day when they ask why you started your company all those years ago.
Successful enterprises are led by executives who articulate a clear vision .
What are examples of a clear vision?
Ewing Kauffman, at his founding of the Kansas City Royals baseball team in 1969, articulated a vision of competing in a World Series within 5 years. While this sounded highly improbable at the time, it caused the entire organization to measure every action it took against the aspiration to be the best! Kauffman built a superb organization and, while there wasn’t a World series within 5 years, the Royals did get to the World Series within 10 years.
The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis was started in 1984 with a vision to “cure spinal cord injury.” This was an audacious goal given the state of spinal cord research at that time. The founder, Nick Buoniconti, believed they he needed to lay out an audacious aspiration in order to galvanize potential followers and superb researchers into action. Twenty seven years later, the Miami Project has raised over $300 million for research and has pioneered critical breakthroughs in treating spinal cord injury. This type of progress would have been unthinkable at its founding
Your vision should be a reach but it also can’t be pie in the sky. It must be realistic in that it has to be based on an ability to develop key distinctive competencies. In addition to its motivational value, a clear vision serves as a powerful prism through which you judge every action you take. It helps you set key priorities. Does the action in question bring you closer to achieving your vision? For example, if you want to be the best business office products retailer in your city, do you spend sufficient time out speaking with and understanding the office products needs of your potential business customers? A vision forces you to ask these questions and serves as a powerful organizing statement for your efforts.
Many business owners believe vision is important. However I’ve seen many business leaders who fail to articulate one. In some cases, they are able to articulate it for themselves but then fail to communicate and discuss this aspiration sufficiently with their key subordinates and other important constituencies. As a result, their people don’t know where they’re heading. This confusion can lead to all sorts of missteps and disagreements regarding priorities and critical decisions as well as general uncertainty among your key lieutenants. To lead your organization, people need to know where you want to go.
You must honestly ask yourself: Do my employees know where I want to go? Can I write down my vision in clear and understandable language?
If you have never tried doing this, or haven’t done it in a long time, I would urge you to push yourself to do so. The effort may cause you to realize that you need to interview your customers, think more about trends in your business and generally step back to reflect. It may cause you to re-examine and challenge the validity of your business model. Maybe the advantages you thought you had have changed or eroded. Possibly the world has changed. However you go about it, take the time to research, reflect and then clearly write down your vision.
Of course, vision alone won’t make you a great leader, but it’s an essential start. Armed with a vision, you can then be prepared to set your key priorities as well as align your organization’s key actions with achieving the aspiration. Taking the time to focus on your vision will help you create a galvanizing road map for your people. In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra: If you know where you’re going, it’s a lot easier to get there!
ROBERT S. KAPLAN: Rob Kaplan is a Professor of Management Practice at Harvard and author of What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential. @Robskaplan