Leadership – Defining Your Organization’s Vision!

Visualize a path that can be followed!
Your organizations vision is its “case for change” and can originate from something as simple as a high level philosophical statement, or be built using a team-based tactical exercise. For example, stating something like, “We want to be the market leader” is similar, but different from, “We need to move ourselves from the middle tier to the top tier of our competitive peer group.” Though both could mean relatively the same thing, the latter suggests the presence of more substance than the first. No matter how it’s formulated, the vision statement should offer a sufficient amount of information to imply that the actual vision makes sense. A business may have a vision to become the market leader, or to move its perceived identity upmarket from that of a “component parts maker” into a “systems integrator,” but any vision’s objective should be realistic enough to appear attainable. At times this may necessitate breaking the macro-vision into smaller micro-steps. Creating a rational and functional vision requires the correct basis data, substantial preparatory work, and a logical execution plan.

Untouchables – The first step in framing the vision begins by having the leadership team define those existing principles within the organization that cannot be altered. These will include elements that make up the current state, such as product quality, a tradition of customer service, market or brand value elements, business ethics and personal morality, and possibly even the brand logo or mission statement. Why are they untouchable? If they are significant enough to form the retained value of the old business, they should also be foundational in the transformation. Further, their continuity serves as a stable vantage point from which people can stay connected to that which factored into their original success. The reality is that there will be plenty of other things to change, so it’s unwise to tackle things that aren’t broken, saving time and resources for the true needs of the business.

Must Changes – With the untouchables defined, the list of critical changes becomes clearer and easier to identify: improvement of competitive position or core competencies, new product development and launch, and possibly even order management. All of them are capable of transforming business performance, elevating market position, or building brand integrity in line with the achievement of the visionary objectives. Once each factor is evaluated for priority and potential impact, they, together, will comprise the must-change list that supports the overarching strategy. As the must-change list is drafted, recheck it against the untouchables to make sure that none of them pose a barrier for progress. Such conflicts should be resolved carefully in order to preserve the most important elements of each.

Integration – Translating your vision into an executable strategy is a far more tactical step that should enlist the broader organization, helping to build buy-in, enhance organizational skills, and ensure that all valid input is considered. Objectives for growth, profitability, or market share should be based on market information, customer feedback, business performance, benchmarking information, and even the organizations culture. Having the team “mine” this detail helps ground the vision in their eyes, preventing it from degrading into a hallucination. The facts and data used to connect the vision to reality also formulate a basis for communication during deployment to the organization.

Clarity of Purpose To better understand the need to provide clarity of purpose, consider one company whose vision came from the top in the form of a blanket “percentage of improvement task” over a strategic planning period of three years. The business unit teams set improvement targets for both the programs and their metrics that based upon the prior year’s performance and in line with the corporate objectives. Because the corporation’s annual plans were always structured as the first stepping stone leading toward achievement of the 3-year strategic plan (and adjusted annually based on actual attainment as well as for market changes), the resultant metric targets provided a pace of progress that enabled achievement of the strategy. Although a top-down approach may seem to be an arguable methodology, the results were never in doubt. The improvement task was woven into tightly linked planning processes covering strategy adjustments, business cycle targets, and organizational development that consistently stretched the enterprise. Significant collective improvements were consistently achieved, in large part because the planning and execution efforts were so tightly integrated and the improvement targets were grounded by their baselines. The involvement and discipline built into the execution and follow-up became the differentiator. The key lesson here is, “If your team can visualize a path, they will be more willing to follow it.”

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