I should have kept a running tally but I didn’t. In forty years of training and consulting, I engaged a very large number of leaders and managers at all levels, team leader up to corporate head. I usually began my intervention with them by asking what should be a simple question – what is your vision for this work?
Some could answer succinctly and quickly, others stammered around clumsily. A few couldn’t answer at all. Most would recite the company or organizational vision statement. Lowe’s Home Improvement Center’s vision statement is: We will provide customer-valued solutions with the best prices, products, and services to make Lowe’s the first choice for home improvement.
Is there anything “wrong” with that vision statement? Not really. As a guiding definition of intentions and attitudes, it works fine.
It does describe principally what success will be ultimately measured by – first choice in home improvement – and it does define the general attitude of the company – customer-valued solutions.
But vision statements tend to be incarnated then memorialized on plaques and stationary, and given lip service from then on.
If they are to really work, vision statements must be repeated like Scripture. They must be ever and always in the forefront of conversation and evaluation.
And they must translate to action.
Now here’s the rub. When I spoke with the leaders and managers of organizations and companies about their vision, they usually had one of four responses:
- They could not define it at all.
- They used a vision statement like the one mentioned above.
- They defined their activities and their job.
- They used phrases so grand and indefinite that it was meaningless.
Okay, so there is a challenge even at the leadership and management level as to why the company exists. This must be settled first. If you don’t know, find out. If you are the head of a company, it is imperative that you, yes YOU, define the vision for it. It is not something you can hire someone to do for you. Consultants like me can guide you through the process, but they cannot and should not write it for you. Here is my set of overarching principles for possessing a defining vision for your company.
- You the leader must define it in terms that can be “seen” in real life. Hint: This is why it is called “vision.” It is something visible, able to be observed and evident in reality. A vision for a building has a specific shape, size, color, and purpose. So does you and your company. What you see is what you get!
- You the leader must believe it. It cannot be a mere activity once done then forgotten and neglected. It is a statement of faith, an expression of values and objectives you really stake your life and reputation upon.
- You must communicate it to everyone who works for you. Everyone!
- You must communicate it often. Don’t just trot it out at quarterly meetings or the annual convention.
- You must connect it to the things you and the people who work for you do every day. If this task does not relate to that vision, why do you do it or ask anyone else to do it?
- You must celebrate incremental progress towards it.
- If you cannot define vision you must question the reason for your company’s existence. If you have no purpose, there is no validation for what you do or ask others to do.
- Without vision people just wander around, dabble in this and that. Every effective leader has discovered the compelling power of vision and has learned to use that. The objectives of the Second World War were clear and foremost. The objectives of the Vietnam War were not.
No Vision = No Destiny
No Destiny = No Purpose
No Purpose = No Direction
No Direction = No Progress
No Progress = No Growth
No Growth = Decay and Failure
What is your vision for your company? If you are not the leader, then what is your company’s vision as defined by its leadership? If you don’t know, how can you find out? This is important because in the next articles of this series I will be dealing directly with vision as it works out in real life.