Every business faces an existential dilemma. Its founder(s) conceived the business with a plan for where they want to go. They’ve dreamed of making a difference in the world but in most cases, that dream never becomes reality. Small Business Administration (SBA) statistics show only half of new businesses are still operating five years after they start and only one third survive for 10 years. This helps to clearly illustrate the dilemma small business leaders face … how to make their business one of the few that survive and thrive long-term.
The first component that will put the business on the right track is a company vision. This almost always starts as an idea in the founder’s mind as something that’s compelling and motivating. There are many stories about founders who overcame dramatic obstacles to bring their idea to life and drive their business forward. However, in order for any vision to survive long-term, it must become more than an idea in the founder’s mind.
A company’s vision must …
- Be brought to life and be shared with the people who will move the business forward
- Be articulated in a way that brings the same picture of success into the minds of others besides the founder
- Become a shared set of beliefs and a story of future success.
- Be original – not borrowed or stolen.
- Be specific and clear – not so vague as to be lifeless or so open to interpretation that those working for its success starting charting different courses
We’ve all seen visions and values (beliefs) statements posted on the walls of businesses. However, if the company hasn’t brought them to life, these efforts to promote them become roadblocks to engagement rather than enhancements. We walked into a business like this and complemented the receptionist on the compelling values posted on the wall behind her desk. In response to our statement, she rolled her eyes and unenthusiastically said “yeah, right.” When questioned, she told us her boss sent her down the street to copy these from a neighboring business and post them. In this instance, the espoused vision and values were not alive and were, in fact, a demoralizing barrier to employee engagement.
Bringing a vision to life takes diligent work and investment of time and energy. It doesn’t happen on its own. We routinely find that this effort can be a years-long process that needs constant attention.
How can you get there?
A company’s vision must be compelling enough to encourage every single employee to help make it a reality. This happens in two ways. First, the vision should draw people together who already innately share a passion for this specific success. Second, the vision should either excite your people or become a sorting mechanism to help those who aren’t excited about it choose to find another vision to follow.
In order to be compelling, your people must share the company’s core values and beliefs as well as a desire to bring to the story to life. As Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”. Finding and communicating the “why” of your vision is what makes it compelling.
The vision must be clear enough to be understood the same way by everyone involved. Breaking the vision into sections can help provide clarity. Part of the vision must be qualitative – what do you value and believe? And part of the vision should be quantitative – just give us the numbers. It must also have both long- and short-term aspects. This is simply a road map showing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
Build your vision first around the shared values. Then, create a picture of the future success that is over the horizon – a big-picture simple statement of that story. Next, create a clear picture of what is in the predictable future. What does success look like three years from now? Finally, build a very clear picture of what needs to happen in the next year to make it all attainable.
With a clear and compelling vision brought to life and understood by all, the business is much more likely to be one of the three that survives and thrives for the long-term.