4 reasons why your vision statement should be blurry

blurry mountainIn the previous post I was kind of hard-nosed about vision statements. Deliberately so. I will not walk it back in this post, but I do want to build on it.

Founders of businesses are necessarily visionaries. They would not have founded the business had they not had vision. But the vision that motivated and inspired may not be all that defined, particularly in the beginning.

Nor does it have to be. You do NOT have to know the end from the beginning before you start. In fact, things seldom turn out just like you plan. Why?

Because no vision, no matter how well it is thought out, defined, and planned, ever survives contact with the real world without alteration. It is always, IT IS ALWAYS subject to unforeseen events and the independent will of others, your competition, the economy, and the powers that be.

Some, citing such odds, seem to favor a no vision approach, but I don’t. It is the inevitable modifications along the way that help determine the nature of the vision. Let’s look again at Lowe’s vision statement:

We will provide customer-valued solutions with the best prices, products, and services to make Lowe’s the first choice for home improvement.”

It speaks of quality and nature; it does not speak of quantity or methodology. This is a valid, useful mission statement because it is deliberately blurry. It avoids locking in processes and procedures because those are strategic and tactical maneuvers that must remain adaptable and necessitate that you must remain flexible.

Lowe’s says that they will provide customer valued solutions but they do not specify what those customer valued solutions are. They say they will offer the best prices but do not even suggest at what discount or percentage variation those prices could or should be when compared to their competitors nor does it specify a sales or pricing policy.  They expect to offer the best products and their focus is home improvement, but that’s a broad spectrum which inevitably changes with time. Go into a Lowe’s store now and you will find a very small supply of wallpaper because wallpaper is not very popular these days. If you visited a Lowe’s a decade or so ago you would have found a very large selection of wallpaper.

The only hint at a quantitative target is their objective to become the first choice for home improvement. Even then, there is wiggle room in the term “first choice.” We assume it means the first choice for everyone everywhere, but Lowe’s does not have stores everywhere. Plus, first choice could mean the first place someone will go to find a home improvement product or service. It does not necessarily imply that they would be the last choice, meaning they can stock everything, will stock everything, or even should stock everything. No, it most likely means they will distinguish themselves as a home improvement retailer with exceptional customer service, innovative retail display space, and quality of products that customers would come to them before checking out anyone else.

The vision is blurry and deliberately so. When you are writing your vision statement, or reviewing one that already exists, I suggest that blurry vision is better. Here’s why:

  1. What you want to happen usually remains more or less constant but how you get there doesn’t! Times change, markets change, people change. Henry Ford got into some difficulty in the 1920’s because he was married to one primary product – the Model T. His competitors became more sophisticated, offering cars with better styling, more options, and competitive pricing. It was only under pressure from family members, trusted associates, Ford dealers and salesmen, and a sagging market share that motivated Henry to develop a new vehicle. Until then the Model T was the Ford Motor Company. But the vision became more blurry, focusing not on a particular definitive vehicle but on a philosophy and personality of business that guides the company even today.
  2. Your vision is not your product. Your product(s) or service(s) are the transport system to get you to the fulfillment of your vision. See #1 above. Too often leaders become fixated on a certain product, method, or service. Vision is much, much larger than that. And it is a good deal more comprehensive.
  3. Blurry vision is not fuzzy thinking. Blurry vision is the result of distance and inexperience. Fuzzy thinking is the result of laziness. Successful and profitable businesses need clear thinking leaders. That compelling vision we’re pursuing demands specific strategies and viable tactics to reach it. We cannot engage in the somehow someway philosophy that divorces the immediate from the ultimate.
  4. We see through a glass darkly but we do see something. Do not get stuck on the vision statement. Do your best and get moving. Things do get clearer. That mountain in the distance lacks detail now but when you get closer you’ll see things better. If you’re a fan of MASH, the TV series, there is an episode where Major Margaret Hoolihan schedules an appointment with an optometrist because her vision is blurry and she fears she will need glasses. Worried about the effects of aging the doctor tries to reassure her saying, “Now even though your eyes are not as good as when you were 18, don’t you see things more clearly now?” Well, you will too. So don’t fret it.

And that is what I will deal with next. See you on Monday.

Vision – the ability to see, to really see, in three directions

delusionsWhen I hear the word vision, I almost always think of looking out and ahead. But, within the dynamics of leadership and management structures, vision is actually three directional. To define our vision we must look to the past, to the present, and to the future.

Backwards Look – The past gives us a “mythology”, an archive of story and legend that gives depth to our work. Reviewing history helps us see the progress we’ve made, the lessons we’ve learned, and the price we’ve paid. Our history helps us appreciate the investment we and others have made with their lives and resources. The past also lets us see what didn’t work, thereby allowing us to conserve resources for more profitable ventures.

Here and Now Look – Looking to the present provides us an “at hand” look at the way things are right now so that we may analyze the effectiveness of our methods and goals in the past and our preparedness to meet the future. We can accurately assess our commitments, obligations, and involvements, measure them against our stated goals and evaluate them to determine whether they…or we… should continue.

Forward Look – Vision is a beckoning target. It articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for our organization.  It makes us focus our attention on worthwhile and attainable achievements. It provides the social and spiritual architecture that frames our identity.

Vision lends these four assets:

Values – what we consider to be important and worthwhile.

Commitment – what activities we will limit ourselves to.

Aspirations – the purposes we intend to pursue.

Evaluation – the standard by which real progress can and must be measured.

But there is one thing that vision is not.

It is not a high-minded delusion. Some visions statements really are quite fantastic. One church I worked with had as its vision statement “To bring the whole world to the foot of the cross.” Now, that is indeed a noble and exalted sounding target, but it is really quite irrelevant and impossible. It actually works against real progress for these two reasons:

First, it is so vague and indistinct one could never know if that particular church is getting anywhere or not. Measured against the billions of inhabitants in the earth, how would one local congregation ever attain it? They can’t and they shouldn’t even try. But using such a grandiose statement encourages participants to engage in the debilitating and compromising practice of delusion. One begins to possess feelings of self-importance and elitism, both terminal diseases for any person or group.

Second,  because it is so delusional in its nature, it promotes dogmatism, the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others. Notice the phrase “consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.” This is the problem, high-minded statements tend to lift one’s feet off the ground, so to speak, and divorce one from the practical and quantitative measurement of progress. This is not vision at all. It is like driving in the fog. Something very important is happening but you really can’t figure out what it is because you never measure the facts against what you have already proclaimed to be reality.

It is irrelevant because it does not and cannot ever be realized by that single particular group. A vision, if it is to have any value, must do more that articulate what is considered to be worthwhile. It must be a realizable and attainable objective. Lowe’s vision statement says that “We will provide customer-valued solutions with the best prices, products, and services to make Lowe’s the first choice for home improvement.”

With some elaboration, quantification, and qualification, this is workable. Why is a vision rooted in reality so important? Because, as I will illustrate in the next several posts, it becomes the rallying point for specific strategic and tactical effort.

Let me say it again, a vision is not merely an eloquently worded statement to be hung on the wall or printed on company literature. It is a definitive look at what the future will be like BECAUSE we set in place conditions and activities that will measure our progress towards its fulfillment.

How? I’ll begin to show you with the next post. See you on Thursday.

8 principles for possessing a defining vision for your company or organization

visionI 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.

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. You must communicate it to everyone who works for you. Everyone!
  4. You must communicate it often. Don’t just trot it out at quarterly meetings or the annual convention.
  5. 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?
  6. You must celebrate incremental progress towards it.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

7 reasons why followers follow

Mumma duck and kidsExamples of visionary leadership are everywhere. Settlers band in groups and follow a leader to a new region or country. Soldiers follow officers into battle. Voters support candidates. Workers leave the security of an existing job to join a new company.  Wives follow husbands, husbands follow wives.  Congregations follow pastors.  Students follow teachers…and the list goes on.

Why? Why do they do so? It is a comprehensive subject and by no means singular or simple. Few follow for one reason. For most of us, the components are a variable recipe of ingredients. But they are identifiable. Unlike Colonel Sanders, the ingredients are not held under lock and key, known only to a few.  You have almost certainly discerned a few. Here’s my list:

The anticipation of discovery – people are attracted to the possibility of new things, especially if they bring with them the promise of reward

The prospect of a better life – nearly everyone wants to improve their status.

The possibility of great good – many are drawn to the idea of doing a great good for others.

The relief from great discomfort – for some, the desire to escape is driven by their present circumstances

The expectation of fulfilled hope – ideals look for expression. Some who follow do so because their leader(s) offer the promise of bringing about the expression of all they’ve hoped for. This is usually political, charitable, religious or a combination.

The expression of practical values – I’ve addressed this under the topic of motivation. The meeting of values synergizes into a powerful dynamic.

The protection of tangible and intangible assets – Soldiers engage in great risk to protect their families and their countries. On a less vivid scale, employees follow company leaders because they offer the prospect of saving what they have and getting more. Workers sacrifice because intangible assets – family and faith – are stronger compulsions than tangible ones.

Followers are willing to endure temporary sacrifice, momentary loss, and intermediary threat in pursuit of these 7 things or some combination deemed worthy.

But, you object, this is supposed to be a series on vision. What does this have to do with vision?

Quite a bit!

A leader’s success will directly hinge on their ability to paint a picture so compelling, so engaging, that followers are willing to sacrifice to come along for the ride. Leaders must not only see they must also be able to say what they see in such a way that it resonates within those they would lead.

This really is not negotiable. All successful leaders are successful communicators. A leadership dynamic may not work because of other reasons, but it certainly will not work in the absence of communicated vision.

And, what we communicate must somehow, someway reveal one or more of the above 7 things if it is to resonate in the value system of the follower. Great examples are:

Moses – led an unruly bunch out of one culture and built an entirely new one in a different place by articulating a vision of the “promised land.”

George Washington – led a rag tag army of untrained militiamen to overthrow the most powerful army in the world with his promise of a better life.

Abraham Lincoln – convinced hundreds of thousands to willingly go into harm’s way to protect a system of values and make life better for thousands more.

Julius Caesar – laid the foundations of empire through stellar political skills.

Winston Churchill – his matchless ability as an orator strengthened the resolve of a nation and broke the back of an oppressor.

And, of course, there is you. Less well known perhaps. Smaller context, nonetheless important. I am not suggesting we engage in delusions of grandeur. Few of us will ever be called upon to leave such a visible mark on civilization. But each and every day we are in a position to principally do the same thing – create something so compelling it finds a response within those we lead.

How well are you doing in calling out one or more of the 7 reasons listed above? Have you even thought about it? Take a few minutes today to try and identify why those who follow you do so and what you can do to make your leadership even more effective? How well do you regularly communicate the vision?

4 ways to scew up the new year

vision_missionThe New Year brings a new series on vision. For the next several weeks I will be positing articles with concepts, techniques, and tools that show effective leaders and managers just how vital this topic is. Vision as a topic gets a lot of press but it functions better as a quality than it does as a task. A leader with vision will doubtless be more effective than one who is given a vision statement with which they must comply.

Vision is not all that complicated. It is, really, a statement of faith, non-religious. It is a reasonably well-defined picture of what you believe the future will be like in practical terms. You’re experienced to know that simply defining the vision does not guarantee its arrival. One must do more than “see.” One must act accordingly.

Since the beginning of the year is almost always accompanied by resolutions to be better, do better, and live better, here are four ways you can screw up your life when it comes to vision.

See the vision and do nothing. This may be the most common response. It is essentially laziness. Remember this. Nothing works if you don’t.        

Give yourself to the wrong vision. Ok, I said it is a statement of faith, but it is not a statement of fantasy. It must have some basis in reality. To see graphic examples of this, simply check out the audition phases of American Idol which air on American television this month. There’s plenty of both to be seen.

Be a dabbler. I’ve written before about the need to focus. Having no tenacity will not advance your cause. I head up a writer’s group in which there are large numbers of people who want to be writers but only a few who actually want to write. Reaching a vision requires tenacity, the capacity to follow through day after day after day. To focus means to”

Find

One

Cause

U

Support

Fall short. This last one sums up the health club business which will boom this month and be considerably smaller by December.  Starting is not so hard. Finishing is more so.

Well, I’ve probably created more questions than I’ve supplied answers and that is by design. In the coming posts, I will address this oh so important subject. 2014 can be our best yet but only if something changes. If you do what you’ve always done you will get what you’ve always got. Let’s don’t. Let’s make this year different than last.

And while you’re plotting new beginnings, why not take a look at my free Mastering Your Time Mini-course. It is just the prescription for setting the focus of your life for this new year. You can subscribe by clicking on the link at the top of the page.

See you Monday.