It came as a shock when Glinda the Good Witch of the North told Dorothy that she “always had the power” to go back to Kansas. Do you remember her answer when Scarecrow asked why Dorothy had not been told this before? “Because she would not have believed me; she had to learn it for herself.” Which pretty much sums up my life and career.
Like Dorothy, I am compelled to try things my own way before I surrender to the counsel of others. One of these hard lessons was in the need for a company Vision. Oh what pain and strife I could have saved myself and my coworkers! If only!
In Part 1 of this series, I argued that it is vital for any job shop to create a strong separation from its competitors via a crystal clear Mission for existing in the marketplace. But a good Mission can’t do all the heavy lifting; a Vision is also required.
Let’s not spend the time to describe the process for writing a business Vision. Any search on vision will provide all the detail you need on how to write one. The “How” is not really the problem anyway, is it? It’s the “Why.” And the “do I have to.” Here’s what I’ve learned at our small batch electronics company:
- Most job shop leaders already carry in their heads some kind of vision or prediction of the future. It may not be written, but it is there. It’s what fires them up, fuels them to face daily risks, and signals them when the company is off track.
- Employees cannot read the mind(s) of their leaders.
- When employees don’t exactly know what the official company vision is, they naturally make up their own versions.
- These competing visions sound perfectly reasonable but they are often based on bad, outdated, or very individualized assumptions.
- Leaders spend a great deal of their time correcting erroneous decisions or behaviors.
Bottom line: The absence of a galvanizing vision causes our people to take the company in their own preferred direction – in other words, we get a perpetual tug-of-war.
I recommend the simple yet powerful visioning process used by the smart people at Zingerman’s. According to Zingerman’s, all good visions are:
- Inspiring: Others are excited about the vision and want to go there.
- Strategically sound: It might be a stretch, but it is do-able.
- Documented: It’s in writing.
- Communicated: Everyone knows about it.
Now that we know the why and the how, we gotta somehow overcome our reluctance to commit our vision to paper.
Here are some of the excuses I’ve seen (and used) over the years:
Excuse 1: But I’m a lousy writer.
Excuse 2: What if my best people don’t agree with the Vision?
Excuse 3: But I don’t want to choose one future over another. I’m best at rolling with the punches.
Excuse 4: But I don’t want to be held accountable for what I write down!
Excuse 5: Okay but what if I’m wrong?
And this is what I’ve discovered:
Lesson 1: Getting someone to record and transcribe an interview with you works very well.
Lesson 2: Then they are already working against it! You’d better hurry.
Lesson 3: Choose a healthy, vibrant future that is true to your values but still gives you some wiggle room. Then invite lots of voices to flesh it out.
Lesson 4: This is definitely the price you pay, but in the end it is much cheaper than the costs and lost opportunities described above.
Lesson 5: At least you and your team are now building toward a positive, specific future instead of settling for whatever life throws at you. Or doesn’t.
RBB’s world is small batch electronics. Maybe your world is dry cleaning, or custom fabrication, or consulting. You need a Vision as much as we do! Where is your store, factory or office headed? What will it look like in ten years? How will its personality evolve over time? What demons are you fighting now that must be slain if you are to survive?
Describe your Kansas now and you will find, as we have, that you’ve had the power to get there all along!
Bruce Hendrick has been a leader of major change in corporations and small business alike for the past 25 years; currently he's the owner of RBB Systems and Organizational Development Services, LLC; noted speaker, author, active church member and community volunteer.