Business Vision Essentials

Martin Holland, Business Coach

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re likely to wind up somewhere else.” – Yogi Bera

Very few of the business owners I’ve met have a clear idea of where their businesses are going. For that reason, they are indeed likely to end up “somewhere else,” along with everyone who is affected by the business. “Somewhere else” might be a happy place, but generally not.  They lack vision!

“Somewhere else” might be a happy place, but generally not.

If owners don’t know where the business is going, employees surely don’t know. When employees don’t know, each must rely on his own judgment to guide his decisions and actions. The result is people working at cross-purposes and suffering from unclear expectations, second-guessing, frustration, suspicion, high turnover, conflicting values, wasted effort, mistrust and general chaos. (Notice that those are all bad things.)

The answer is to identify a meaningful vision for your business

The answer to those difficulties is to identify a meaningful vision for your business, to capture it in a vision statement and to focus everyone’s efforts on achieving it.

The most compelling vision statements paint a picture of an ideal

The most compelling vision statements paint a picture, not of a business itself, but rather of an ideal that results when a business has accomplished its purpose. Confused? Let me illustrate with examples of great vision statements:

The vision statement of the Citizens’ Advisory Board in my hometown is “Every child safe, well and stable.” How’s that for an ideal? If you worked for the CAB, would you understand your purpose? Would that vision guide your decisions and actions? (You’ve probably never heard of the CAB, but by reading just six words you have already shaped an opinion, haven’t you?)

The vision statement of The Walt Disney Company was “A smile on every face.” Would that ideal provide guidance and purpose to people working at Disneyland? I think so. That is no longer Disney’s vision statement. They have messed it up. A quick search will turn up numerous vision statements for Disney, including one that says: “…Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world…” Differentiate? We seek? Related products? And who wins if there is a conflict between “profit” and “innovative?” This puffery is not nearly as clear and useful as “A smile on every face.” (I’ll wager no one at Disney even knows the new version, let alone takes guidance from it.)

The vision statement of Google is “All the information in the world organized and accessible.” Do you suppose that vision had anything to do with Google Search, Google Earth, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Reviews, AdWords, YouTube, Image Search, Video Search and all of the other Google products, including any they may have invented since I started typing this paper? (How did the world respond to their vision statement? Google it!)

It is unlikely that a business will ever fully achieve the lofty ideals captured in its vision statement.

Don’t misunderstand. It is unlikely that a business will ever fully achieve the lofty ideals captured in its vision statement. There will never be a time when every child is safe, well and stable, or when every face wears a smile, or when all the world’s information is organized and accessible – but those visions provide the ideals that focus decisions and actions within the organizations.

What is an ideal resulting from your business achieving its purpose?

Creating a clear, compelling vision statement is not often easy because business owners don’t often know what they want. To create your vision statement, you must decide and you must express it clearly. Begin by asking: “What is an ideal resulting from my business achieving its purpose? (The confusion you feel trying to answer that questions is the same confusion that causes chaos in your organization.) Think about the result you really want (“relief” is probably not a compelling vision). Keep your answer simple, short and descriptive, but do not settle for platitudes such as “happy customers,” or “quality products,” “the best service.” Nobody pays attention to platitudes.

Consider an indirect ideal

Consider creating your vision statement around an “indirect” ideal. For example, a client of mine has a goal of a specific amount of profit and growth over the next five years. Instead of “Profit and growth” as a vision statement, he chose to create a vision statement describing an ideal that would result in profit and growth. His vision statement is “The employer of choice for professionals in the _________industry.” That is an indirect vision because it does not mention profit and growth, but rather a condition he believes will result in profit and growth. He understands that attracting and keeping top professionals leads to repeat customers which leads to profit and growth.

Below are a few sample indirect visions statements from my company, Actioncoach, and some of my clients:

“World abundance through business re-education”

“Everybody calls us first”

“Known for unmatched communication”

“Known for the fastest response times in the industry”

“Every customer a raving fan who provides referrals without being asked”

“World peace and cultural understanding through a compassionate, profitable IT staffing experience”

Your vision statement can save you or rat you out

A word of caution: Your vision statement will provide clarity to calm chaos – if it clearly represents your true purpose. If it does not, it will clarify the contrast between your stated intentions and your actions, which will add cynicism to chaos. In that case, you would be better off “somewhere else.”