During his 1992 presidential campaign, President George H. W. Bush alluded as how he didn’t know what “the vision-thing” meant – and he lost. Bill Clinton, his opponent, claimed that he had a clear vision of the country’s future – and he won – reaffirming the wisdom of Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” A clear vision isn’t just a handy thing to have, it’s a necessary commitment by an enterprise’s leaders to its success and how it will be achieved.
Whose Vision Is It?
A dictionary definition of vision is the “power of discerning future conditions; sagacity in planning, foresight.” These are admirable qualities in a leader — think John W. Nordstrom, Henry Ford, Sam Walton, Bill Hewlett and David Packard, Steve Jobs, and Howard Schultz. Even among these unquestionably visionary leaders, the companies they founded have struggled to retain their luster or, what we call, being “worthy of growth.” That’s because the challenge of sustaining success is less about visionary leadership than it is about the skills of building the vision into the DNA of the company.
The Leverage of a Core Idea
No one starts a business in order to do “the same old thing” that has always been done. Rather, from the get-go, founders believe that they will do something that has never been done, done as well, or done cheaper. Most are convinced that they have a winning answer to the timeless question of success: “What can we do that our most valued customers see as compelling and differentiating?” The answer is a company’s core idea. Toyota’s core idea is “to attract and retain customers by providing highly valued products and services and the most satisfying ownership experience in America.” It’s an actionable statement of the company’s founding mission – “Beat GM” – stated from the customer’s perspective. Stating the core idea or mission of a company from the customer’s perspective acknowledges the fact that success stems from providing an experience that its most valued customers value.
Visioneering™ is a process that speaks directly to the challenge of intentionally creating value. In this sense, a company vision is a detailed description of how a company will earn the active loyalty of a its most valued customers. Active loyalty captures the idea of the customer going out of her way to buy and support an enterprise by, for example, driving by its best competitor to buy from one of its stores. “Detailed” means having actionable answers to the basic question of customer loyalty: “What’s in it for me?” A comprehensive vision answers this question not only for customers, but for a company’s other stakeholders (e.g., employees, suppliers, investors, and community).
Experience has taught us that there are common elements included in the most effective and memorable answers to this question and others such as “What is our business?” and “What will keep us inspired and working together?” regardless of whether the vision is that of a nonprofit, for-profit, educational, or charitable enterprise. These elements are shown as the building blocks of vision.
Figure 1: The Building Blocks of Vision
The Building Blocks of Vision
The objective of the process is to ensure that the meaning of each of the building blocks is thoroughly discussed by the company’s leaders and included in the company’s vision in unambiguous and actionable terms such as Southwest Airline’s “freedom” and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse’s “To be the best American Steakhouse experience you have ever had.” The content of a vision includes “squishy” concepts such as values, dreams, and brand intent as well as hard financial numbers.
Articulating a company’s vision is hard work, but not nearly as hard as implementing it. One reason for this difficulty is the fact that vision implementation is a top-down responsibility that cannot be delegated to a department for “roll-out.” In short, a company’s leaders have to learn to walk-the-talk of their vision before it can be understood or their leadership seen as credible by their followers.
Creating a living by a vision is an onerous personal change process for many people, but once a company’s leaders understand and model their vision, enterprise-wide implementation is straightforward. In order to institutionalize a company’s vision as part of its culture, it has to be taught throughout the company, integrated into its promise-keeping processes, and become the basis of its business model, strategy, brand building, and metrics.
Vision is core to a company’s culture. After a company’s vision is clear, leaders can start building and aligning the layer’s of culture. Learn more about this process in our whitepaper, “What is Organizational Culture?”
Read Our Whitepaper: What is Organizational Culture?