Creating a vision for your firm, and your team

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Visions are dangerous. They are the land of saints and sinners; the bigger the vision the bigger the chance of disaster. Fortunately, visions are not about copying Martin Luther King and declaring “I have a dream….” Whatever you dreamed about last night, do not share it with your boss.

Fortunately, a vision is much simpler. It is a story in three parts:

  • This is where we are
  • This is where we are going
  • This is how we will get there

And if you want to make the vision truly compelling, you add a fourth part: “and here is your very important role in helping us get there. “ In other words, make the vision personal. Telling people that your vision is to increase earnings per share by 7% for the next five years is not wildly exciting: show how achieving this will help create growth and more job opportunities for all.

Often the best visions are the simplest: “we will become more customer focused”; “we are going to become international” “we will professionalise our operations”. These are simple statements which everyone can understand, and they give you a script to follow for the rest of the year. Even “Our goal is to survive this recession/disaster/competitive challenge” is motivating: it is a call to action with a clear and positive outcome for all. If you are running a large organisation, you may want a grander vision.

If you want a big vision, try this one: “We will put a man on the moon within ten years”. Kennedy’s vision, in the wake of Sputnik, seemed like a pipe dream: the technology for going to the moon did not exist. But the goal was achieved. Since then, NASA has had successes and failures (Hubble and Challenger), but has lost its way compared to the time it was driven by Kennedy’s compelling vision. With a vision, NASA was a success; without it, it has struggled. Visions are powerful.
To test your firm’s vision, think of Kennedy, NASA, the space race and Russia: RUSSIA is the acronym for what makes a good vision. Here is what it means:

  • Relevant: it meets a need which everyone inside the firm can recognise
  • Unique: you could not apply your vision to your competitors or to the local coffee shop
  • Stretching: “I will turn up to work most days” is not a great vision: “I will conquer the known world by the age of 30” is a bit more stretching: step forward Alexander the Great.
  • Simple: if no one can remember it, no one can act on it.
  • Immediate: you have to act on the vision now and know when you will have got there.
  • Actionable: each person in the firm must know what it means for them, and the firm must know how the vision will affect investment, decision making and measurements and rewards.

How Russian is the vision for your firm and your team?

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