As a business leader, you need to have a clear vision in regard to the positive impact you want to make. A vision formulates the difference you hope to make, and articulates what you wish to change. It gives you and your people a reason to jump out of bed in the morning, and a direction to follow. Having a clear vision is a strategic competence that you should build up or improve in order to start and lead a great company. Here are three steps you can take to develop a clear vision.
1. Get to know your vision
In most cases, you might have a general idea about a desirable outcome that your company would create. You found an HR consultancy firm in New York because you believe in improving the quality of the Americans’ work life. You are on the right track but there is much more to do. If you do not yet have a clear idea, there are steps you can take to get to your vision.
You need an ultimate goal for your company’s existence. You need a dream. One important thing to remember is that you should not be afraid to dream big. Allow yourself to think about ideas that may not seem likely. Adopt a future mindset and think about what you can do, and what is possible to achieve. Here is an exercise for you to get to your dream - your ultimate goal.
Let’s come back to your HR consultancy firm. You should start imagine how you would like to see the Americans’ work life in the next 10 years. Write down your ideas. Don’t worry if some of them sound unrealistic. Just keep writing. Use bullet points or mind mapping or whatever tool that helps you get everything in your head out on paper. Don’t let your judgement or a practical mindset get on your way at this step. You can start by answering some questions, such as:
In 2025, how will the Americans feel at work? Will they be happy then? Will they feel content with their achievement? Will they feel appreciated? Will they have a high sense of belonging? Will they feel strongly motivated? Will they feel safe?
Will the Americans work long hours in the year 2025? What will be the balance between their working hours and their wages then? What will be the 2025’s other benefits? Will they commute a lot then? In 2025 will the Americans do more flexible hours?
In 2025, what will be the balance between their work life and their personal life? Will they have time for their family and their hobbies? What kind of holidays will they be able to afford? How much time for holidays will they have in the year 2025?
You can also make up your own questions. The questioning step is to help you come up with as many ideas as possible. After laying out all the ideas, you can sift through them and pick out what is most important to you. This is the clarifying step to figure out your purpose. What would be the one defining your company’s existence? What would be the sole purpose of your days, weeks, and years of work?
Let's look at Virgin Group as a real life example. The group operates in many industries including aviation, telecommunications, banking and space tourism. All businesses under Virgin Group however share a common purpose: to enhance people’s lives.
Once you know your purpose, you need a direction. You need to answer the question: Where are we heading to? With your HR consultancy firm, do you want to change the life of all working Americans or do you want to focus on healthcare forces only? Do you see the improved future in 10 years or in 20 years? You need a deadline for your dream. You need a milestone to aim for. A good example is Interface’s vision:
You can see that their dream of achieving sustainability in all its dimensions has a deadline - it’s 2020. Their efforts are directed towards the people, process, product, place and profits.
When you need to work out a direction for your company, go back to the ideas you have written down earlier. Put them in the retrospective of the purpose you have decided on. For example, you want to see Americans happier at work. Find the answers for the first set of questions above but not for the year 2025 but for the time being (i.e a week before Christmas 2014). Compare the two scenarios. Work out an estimation for how long it would get you from here to there. Will it take 10 years, or longer? Keep in mind that it does not have to be as fixed as a cornerstone. Your vision can and should evolve when circumstances evolve. It is however better to have a direction than to have no direction.
A vision for a company need to be a shared vision. It needs to bring people together in a mission. It should create a distinctive culture where your employees and you belong. Your company’s culture is mainly defined with the core values that you, as a founder, live by and qualities that you, as a leader, possess. If you act with high integrity and focus on the real value, your company will tend to dedicate the efforts to high quality products or services. You need to evaluate yourself. Do a self-awareness exercise that asks questions like:
What are my strengths?
What do I excel at?
What makes me different from the people around me?
What do I value about the people around me?
What human qualities am I passionate about?
How do I make my best decisions?
What is not so good about me?
What would drive me nuts?
The answers to all these questions will help you define the culture for your company. Your differentiated qualities can be transferred into your company’s competitive strengths. For example, your excellent communication skill will help your firm to build great relationships with customers.
Similarly, the things you value about others and things that drive you nuts are likely to help you decide who to hire and not to hire. Your future employees should be the ones who share your vision, who jump out of bed every morning for the same purpose as yours.
In brief, you need to get to know your vision by dreaming your dreams, finding a direction and figuring out your values.
2. Articulate your vision
The next step is to create a vision statement that is motivational, clear and memorable.
A powerful statement often contains action verbs, describes an outcome and evokes emotion. Let’s look at Disney’s vision statement:
You can see that all the elements are there. A clear statement is easy to understand and leaves no room for alternative interpretations. You want to avoid words that can be understood in different ways. Many companies have fallen in the trap of aiming to ‘be the world leader in abc products and services’. A reader might ask: “What does leader mean here?” Many outcomes can be referred to as becoming an industry leader. The highest revenue gained, the most advanced technology used, the most people employed - just to name a few. Such statement does not bring anyone closer to their vision if not further away.
Besides, you want a concise phrase as a summary of your vision. IKEA’s
is easy to remember. It sticks. You want a memorable phrase that you can use in various communication materials be it your website or your adverts.
3. Communicate your vision
It is important that you communicate your vision right. Think about who you are communicating with. Are they your employees, a potential investor or the general public? Besides, consider the medium carefully because the medium is the message. If you can, word your messages accordingly for a blog post and for a speech to announce the new missions under the company’s vision. There should however be three common qualities in all vision communication:
inspiration, engaging and clarity.
You can really inspire others when you talk with enthusiasm. When you make a speech, be upbeat about your message. Maintain a vivid eye contact and relax your facial muscles. Remember that strong and powerful hand gestures can move people as effectively as your words.
You want others to share your vision, right? Keep them engaged! When you talk to others about your vision, try not to literally make a speech. Encourage others to discuss, question and take ownership of the vision. Use certain keywords like “we”, “us” and “our” to include your employees. If you are sending out the statement in writing, provide an email address or a postal box. Let others know that you welcome their questions and feedback. Besides, it is helpful to use task-specific examples. If people can visualise the relation between your vision and their work or life, they will be more likely to share your vision.
Clarity is another key component. When you talk, pick up an appropriate speed. Don’t let your enthusiasm drive you into speaking too fast. Some might find it hard to follow you. Regarding written communication, it is clearer if you use a simple layout and not too many font styles.
You might wonder how often you should communicate your vision. It is better to do it frequently in both direct and indirect ways. Some ideas are:
Include a version of the company's vision statement in your welcoming letter to a new employee
Make sure visitors can easily find your vision statement on your website
Include it in all the press releases you send out
Tie quarterly objectives or performance reviews back to the vision
Talk to people
It is important to remember that there can be too much communication. Do not repeat the exact same message every day. People will stop listening. A reminder that specifically ties the vision to the last week’s event is helpful. An automatic statement email sent out to every employee on the first of every month is just annoying. Avoid overdoing your communication. Most importantly, you should live by your vision in everything you do. Your daily action is the most authentic demonstration of your vision. People are prone to share a dream when they see their leader act the dream.
A clear vision is an essential start for a great leader and a great company. Take time to go through all the depths of the vision that you have, and learn to best communicate your crafted messages of your vision.