Getting your business to fly in formation
Time can only be used once. Ensure you spend it wisely.
To build a truly successful business, you first need a vision – one that will set you alight with excitement, and give those around you something tangible that will capture their imagination.
Your vision will excite and inspire people to follow you – and will be at the core of everything in your business. Your vision will generate extra commitment and effort. It will translate directly into greater profitability and increase the capital value of the business. In addition, it will lay the foundations on which others can build.
Why is this important? Well, as the team around you take ownership of the goal, the goal takes on a life of its own, opening the way for you to focus on other business priorities, build profits and maybe even for you to have the time to have… a life!
Do you have that inspiring vision?
Do you have in mind a destination that you and your business are heading for? If not, then as that old saying goes “If you don’t know where you are going any road will do”.
What is a vision statement?
There are numerous definitions of what a vision statement should be and what it should include. At its simplest a vision statement should answer the following questions:
- What does our company do?
- Who are our ideal clients?
- What service or product do they want to purchase from us?
- How will we measure success?
If you can answer those questions then you should have a single message that you can communicate across every channel. It should be built in to your company’s operations and culture so everyone lives and works by it in every aspect of their role.
Where to start?
You start by simply daydreaming. It may be hazy and nebulous at first, but work at it – wafting away the mist to reach the core idea, the spirit of your vision. It may take days, even weeks. The nice thing about this constructive daydreaming is that it doesn’t stop you working while you are doing it. However, beware of thinking, as you dream your dream: ‘Oh we couldn’t do that! It’s just wishful thinking.’ It’s even easier to get lost in the how-to of it all. Don’t be held back by what you think is possible, or you will end up limiting your vision. The moment you catch yourself starting to think of how you will achieve your dream, stop, and go back to the what – the big picture. Right now, you do not need to burden yourself with reality.
What does a vision do?
There are many advantages of having a clear view of what the business is designed to realise. A good one does several things.
Your vision will ensure that everybody in the company knows what the business is striving to achieve. As a result it allows them to focus their efforts on the things that make a difference and in so doing it motivates them to deliver the results over the long term.
If you define a clear vision you will have included in it some aspect that will differentiate you from your competitors. As you grow you will need to demonstrate that you are offering something that is different and better, and so ensure potential clients select you in preference to your competitors.
Finally it is also a unifying factor in holding an organisation together. The best example we have come across is a company called Spencer du Bois. Their vision is to work with clients whose ambitions go beyond the bottom line, to make a real difference. So they primarily work with charities, educational and cultural institutions and ‘ethically enlightened’ companies. That means that their employees know that they will work on projects that mean something to them, the clients know that they will work with people that share the same values. It all adds up to building an excellent reputation that will attract the right sort of work and will enable them to repel the sort of work that they don’t want to get involved with.
In short, your vision will excite and inspire people to follow you – and it will be at the core of everything in your business. More importantly, it will lay the foundations on which others can build, and so allow you to escape from your business. After all, Kennedy acted like any good business leader – he didn’t build the rocket or choose the astronauts: he just set out the vision and persuaded people that it was one worth pursuing.
We can summarise the benefits of you having a vision statement as follows.
- Paint a picture of an aspirational, desired but realistic future;
- Be distinctive, credible, memorable, and command attention;
- Inspire and liberate;
- Be succinct and context free;
- Be ambitious but achievable;
- Create ‘clear blue water’ differentiation.
- Attract the sort of business you want to be involved in
- Repel the sort of business you do not want to be involved in
It works for Richard Branson
How does it work in practice? Richard Branson has a clear vision of the kinds of people who will work for him. As far as he’s concerned, Virgin people are easy to spot. ‘They act in unusual ways, as it’s the only way they know how. But it’s not forced – it’s natural. They are honest, cheeky, questioning, amusing, disruptive, intelligent and restless… Virgin people are smart.
‘There are certain attributes that we look for future employees to possess. A Virgin person would typically:
- Have a passion for new ideas;
- Think “differently”;
- Have signs of creativity;
- Smell new business opportunities;
- Always listen to customers.’
‘I joined Virgin because I wanted rock ‘n’ roll. I wanted the big challenge, the big job, the big car, but I wanted rock ‘n’ roll as well’ – and that came from a stuffy old Finance Director!
How to create your vision
Coming up with a vision begins with thinking about what it is that you are trying to build. Start by writing down what your business will look like at some point in the future.
Imagine yourself arriving at your office in five years’ time and describe what you see.
What sort of business is it? What will you deliver to your prospective clients? How big? What kinds of people do you have working for you… and what about the customers? How would you describe the ideal client? Are they corporates, global players or local shopkeepers? There is no right answer at this stage, only an image of what you want them to look like. After all it is this group of people that holds the key to your long-term future. What do they want from you? More importantly how will they derive value from using you? How do people behave towards you, each other, your suppliers… your clients? What is the culture or set of values that binds you all together?
Keep imagining what it will look like. Add anything in that you feel will shape the company’s identity. Brainstorm with other people; get loads of feedback from past and current clients, colleagues, acquaintances, friends and family about how they would describe you.
If you prefer pictures to words, we suggest that you use a mood board. Get a decent size piece of card and stick images on it that reflect what it is that you want it to be. Take off the “horizon limiter” during these sessions. Think about what it could look like. If it helps, have a drop of wine or similar to get the creative juices flowing.
Things you might consider
What goes into your vision is entirely down to you, the type of business you are in and where you are on the growth curve. The only check that can be applied to see if it works is – “Are we still heading towards it?” The basic elements of your vision might include:
- The purpose of your business (which isn’t to make money – that’s just a by-product).
For example, ours is: ‘To help ambitious business leaders achieve profitable and sustainable business growth.’ This clear purpose underpins everything we do.
- What products and services you offer in their totality or described in terms of the value they create. Be creative; expand on the value the clients get, rather than what it is that you do. For instance we could argue that all lawyers offer legal services, all of them are competent, all of them are qualified, and all of them say that they are personable. If you look at their vision statements it will probably contain one or more of these. If you were a lawyer, your vision statement might want to capture some other aspect of the benefit of using you. You might want to include something that you do really well such as speedier, on line, 24-hour access and so on. Each of these describes ways of achieving a difference.
- Who will buy from you? It is unlikely that everyone or anyone will be your target market. You will need to cut it up into smaller pieces and select one to focus on. How will you cut up or segment the market? What are the similarities between them and is the segment big enough for you in the future. You might look at the way your customers feel about the business.
- What you compete on and what makes people seek you out above all your competitors
- The feel of the business – what it looks like physically, how it acts, what kind of equipment you use, how your employees feel towards each other, their customers and yourself
- Your geographic scope – where you are located, where your markets are
- Finally, you should include some financial metrics to ensure that you keep the business side of things in focus. No business will succeed in the long term if it does not make a profit. What should that profit be? It depends on a whole raft of things. Ultimately it is down to you to decide. You might want to include some or all of the following: the size of your business in terms of turnover, profit level, and annual growth. Insert them at the end of the vision, as you might not want your suppliers to see these!
Remember, vision, differentiation and communication can move mountains! They certainly got a man to the moon.
Turning it into reality
Having gone to the trouble of drafting the vision statement, you then need to ensure that it is used as the basis for everything that you do. Turning it into reality means:
- Allocating roles and responsibilities. Spell out to everyone what they are expected to do towards delivering to the vision statement. If we return to Kennedy for a moment, there is a famous anecdote to demonstrate the extent to which the vision captured the imaginations of everyone. On arriving at the space centre a visiting congressman asked the car park attendant what he did. “I’m putting a man on the moon, sir” was the reply.
- Keeping it alive in hearts and minds of employees. Be creative here too. Before every meeting, place a copy of it and read through it. Ask everyone to yell out if the conversation is moving away from the agreed vision.
- Connecting it to strategy and action programmes. Keep asking yourself – is what we are doing or planning to do going to get us closer to where we said we wanted to go?
- Identifying critical success factors. Set out a few milestones along the way and most importantly celebrate when they are met. A sincere well done is a huge motivator.
However, your vision will die a slow, lingering death if:
- Employees are rewarded and remunerated to do something else.
- Employees are not empowered or equipped with skills to do what is necessary.
- It isn’t constantly communicated and reinforced.
- It isn’t based in reality (as well as being achievable and flexible).
Having developed the vision, you then need to communicate it. It is at this stage that things usually start to go wrong. Our experience is that it will only work if it remains visible and out of the business plan/lone sock drawer. Have it drawn up and framed to hang at the most visible part of the building. Have lots of them; support them all with examples of success.
You need a vision statement to ensure that you focus all your resources on things that matter and make a difference. Long-term sustainable growth, which is the hallmark of a successful business, comes about through leadership, careful planning and the allocation of skills, talents and knowledge to deliver benefits to clients that generates long-term profits.
The final thought on having a vision goes to Peter Drucker, a wise old bird who has given so much to business over the years:
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
Wishing you every success in accelerating business growth.
Robert M. Hook
The Business CoPilot