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Whose Vision is It?

Whose Vision is It?
By: Andy Kheir
Kheir Consulting

I often get the question similar to this one: "We're a small company, and so were able to have the whole team participate in vision creation exercises, and we have everyone contribute when we refocus, but I'm always looking for new ideas for how to get everyone to 'drink the kool-aid'. Any ideas to help a small organization better ingrain their vision and mission into the company culture?"

Talk about a loaded question!  In a nutshell, it is about fear.  He are some key points to follow when creating a vision statement:

Don't Include Everyone
As a small company, I am going to give you advice that conflicts with most other experts.  The reasoning is that most vision/mission exercises and creation tools are meant for larger companies (500+ employees) and do not address the small business dynamics.  When they speak about vision and mission creation, they speak about getting everyone involved, especially senior executives.  Small businesses do not have 'senior executives'.  They generally have one to three owners, and usually one or two key managers as they grow.  The rule of thumb should be - If you will lose your house if the business fails, you have input into vision and mission.  Employees in a small business, although they often become friends and are personally involved, business speaking, thare are generally NOT that invested (financially, career commitment, emotionally, etc.) in the company itself.  In larger companies, senior executives will have serious financial, career and emotional set backs when the business fails.   When a vision statement is developed ONLY owners and those most invested should have any say at all (excluding financial only, like banks, VC, Angels, etc. - they will literally buy in with money to YOUR stated vision and mission). When developing your mission, general direction should be laid out as a framework, and input should be heard from anyone deemed useful, but the decision of final draft and direction always falls on the vision creators alone.

The Vision is the Reason
This makes the business owner's job of getting buy-in to the company vision and mission both easier and harder at the same time!  Let's start with the vision statement.  This needs to be VERY simple.  Very simple to understand - very simple to remember!  If you ask your employees what the company vision is, they should at the very least be able to paraphrase the content.  To achieve this, keep it very short.  Simple, but often overlooked.  In all meetings, state the vision of the company in conversation - examples - "As we ...state vision... we are exploring expansion into New York." or "As we ...state vision... we are going to develop the new product xyz."  It is your personal and your company's rationale for EVERY action you take, so state it.  It will become the defacto rationale for your employees (and yourself).  It becomes ingrained because it is always used and always referenced.  

Fit the Hire
As well, when hiring, the candidate should reflect the company vision in their interview answers without prompting.  If quality is a large portion of your vision (Bose - 'Better Sound Through Research'), they should be talking about quality frequently in the interview.  If low cost is a large portion of the company vision (Alcan - "To be the lowest cost producer of aluminum & to outperform the average return on equity of the Standard & Poor's industrial stock index.") then efficiency and teamwork (items that contribute to low cost) should be talked about frequently by the candidate in the interview.  These are indicators that the candidate already believes in the basic principles of the company vision and is a good fit.  A vision statement answers what company does, and, in a perfect world, what the company is.

The Mission is the Second Reason
The mission statement is more achievement oriented.  It is based on general goals that seem achievable and necessary.  Often there is some sort of quantifiable item in the statement.  IBM - "Our goal is simply stated. We want to be the best service organization in the world."  The mission could be to achieve number one or two status.  The mission statement answers why you do what you do. Once again, this is used as rationale for decision making and should be stated in conversations whenever possible.  It helps explain why the company is moving in the direction it is, and why there is change. When giving reasons for a decision, flip back and forth between the vision and mission statements.

Eliminate Fear
Fear, especially fear of the unknown is a terrible negative motivational factor.  This is where the role of a small business becomes harder.  When employees know the rationale behind decisions, fear is reduced.  Without a communications officer, a PR person, etc., it becomes difficult to manage information and keep everyone in the loop.  Small businesses move quickly and make large shifts in direction.  This frightens many employees.  Especially when they do not know what is coming next.  Giving clear rationale for decisions allows for predictability and helps to eliminate fear of the unknown.  This is why it is a good idea to often state the vision and mission fit to a decision.

Fit Ideas With Vision/Mission First
Most ideas from small businesses get shelved. Keeping employees out of preliminary ideas can often be useful!  It can confuse and actualy frighten them, leading to a lack of motivation and commitment.  I know this sounds condescending, but until there is a real chance (say >1%), consider these ideas brainstorming.  Until the ideas have been evaluated for fit with the company vision and mission, consider not informing everyone.  This is leadership, not elitism.  Remember that the vision and mission statements are the rationale.  If your employees see that direction and decisions fit with the driving rationale, they will have less fear - less unknown.  By submitting all ideas (like most small businesses do) to employees, they are undermining their own vision and mission.  By showing that direction and decisions are being considered BEFORE they have evaluated for fit, it signals that there isn't buy-in into the vision and mission by the owners/management.  This is where much of the preliminary buy-in is eroded by many small businesses.  It definitely is a balancing act of keeping people in the loop, while not creating confusion and distraction.  

Maintain Focus
If decisions and direction is directly tied to the vision and mission, you reduce or eliminate fear, and reinforce company values.  If the vision and mission do not fit what the company is doing, it is time to revise the vision and mission (the vision should be very long standing, but for small businesses, the mission may only last 1-5 years to start out - as the business grows, the mission should last 5-15 years).  If going in a completely new direction, it is time for a new company with its own vision and mission.  Often, this is often a wholly owned subsidiary.  This keeps things clear and focused.  Whenever there is confusion about actions by owners/managers and a fit to the vision/mission there can never be buy-in.



Kheir Consulting assists small businesses in the areas of marketing and strategy, helping them plan, promote and profit. Through a strategic approach, we help create smarter businesses that can make faster and better decisions.



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