Is It Clear?
I recently conducted a strategic planning session with the leaders of a consulting firm who wanted to add a retail component to their company. To clearly understand their vision so I could help them build a strategy, I asked them questions such as, “How much revenue will it make? How many people will walk through the door each day? How many people will work there?”
I actually thought I had a pretty good idea of their strategy, but when I asked them to close their eyes and describe their end goal, they threw me a curve-ball: They wanted to buy a building.
“When do you want to do this?” I asked.
“In 5 years,” they replied.
“How much revenue do you need to make to support the building you want?” I queried.
They gave me a number.
“How many years in a row do you need to bring in that amount before you can safely buy the building?” I asked, now making calculations in my head.
Once we started thinking about this vision, we had to rethink the numbers. To accomplish this vision, the company would need to hit some pretty aggressive revenue goals. Without this discussion, we would have built a plan that left them far short of the vision they had.
Visions Are Powerful
When I work with companies to develop a strategic plan, I always start with the vision. Vision comes before a mission statement and before values because vision shapes both. When a start-up or a small business starts strategizing, the owner or CEO needs a clear picture of what they want to accomplish as well as why they want to accomplish it.
Can you run a company without a vision? Sure. People do it all the time. It’s inefficient, confusing, frustrating and expensive, but people do it, and so can you. The real question is, “Why would you want to?”
Most business owners or CEOs have some sort of vision in their head. For many, it is fuzzy or incomplete. They share the bits and pieces that they consider relevant, but rarely share the whole vision to anyone. That means most of the people around them who are tasked with turning this vision into a reality are partially in the dark. It’s hard to make good decisions with only part of the information.
Having a vision is a good start, but only of minimal value unless you can clearly communicate it to the people you work with, be it sales reps, customers or clients. By creating and sharing a well-developed vision, you are building a foundation for communication and decision-making that will drive your company the in the direction you want it to go. A clearly-communicated vision means fewer mistakes, fewer miscommunications and a lot less back-tracking.
Decisions, priorities, and activities change when people see the bigger picture. Sometimes what seems important now isn’t important at all when you see the whole story.
A clearly communicated vision empowers employees to make decisions based on a mutual understanding. If you can share your vision, everyone can understand the reasoning behind your decisions and their own. They can also figure out why seemingly arbitrary changes in priorities are really critical pivots to achieve the vision.
20 Crucial Questions
A vision is more than a single statement. It is a paragraph or two with key bullet points of information. Here are some questions to help you build a vision that will be a solid foundation for your business strategy.
First, pick a date in the future when your company has matured, and you have achieved what you set out to do. Then answer these questions. They may seem simple, but they aren’t. Think carefully about your answers and what they mean.
- Why does your company exist?
- What does your company do or make?
- How are you positioned in the market place?
- Who is buying from you?
- How many customers do you have?
- How much of what products are they buying?
- What is your revenue?
- What is your production volume? How is it being produced?
- What products are produced and what is in development?
- What markets are you in?
- How many employees do you have? Contractors? Distributors?
- What kinds of people work for you?
- Where does everyone work? Describe the location(s).
- How are you growing—organically or by acquisition?
- Do you have investors? Partners?
- How much money do you owe?
- How much profit are you making?
- What is your company worth?
- What is your end game? Run the company? Sell the company? Sell the technology?
- When will you sell? Retire?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be able to craft and clearly communicate a vision.
With a clear vision, you can do a few things that you couldn’t do before. First, you can make a plan to get you to where want to go. Second, you can make sure that everyone on the team understands and shares your vision. Third, you can begin to write out the financial story that goes with this vision and begin to figure out how you will support it.
With all of this in place, each of your teams can build a plan that supports your vision. The sales team can chart out a strategy that will support this vision. The production and development teams can chart out roadmaps to deliver the product when it is needed. The HR team can see the direction you will be going and create a hiring plan to support your growth.
Vision drives a business owner to take the right risks, make decisions and build the company they’ve imagined. Vision shows a sales leader the bigger picture and gives them insight regarding strategic decisions and how to direct their team. Vision is the first step to creating a solid strategy to support your company’s future.