A Lesson in Strategy: Lead with a Vision

By Kim Marcille

In Yogi Berra’s 2007 commencement speech to the graduating class of St. Louis University, he said, “Be careful if you don’t know where you’re going in life, because you might not get there.”  Yogi’s latest take on his own funny and famous quote from years ago certainly describes the unfortunate situation that many professionals and business owners find themselves in.

While focusing on the tactical nature of doing business, the strategic vision is often lost, and in some cases it never gets established in the first place. We’re sure that we need to make the month. We’re sure that we have to pay the bills. We know that we have to keep our customers happy if we have any hope of survival. But in the end, will the business activities we engage in every day deliver the end result we wish for?

We can only answer that if we know what the desired end result is. What will your business look like at its most successful moment? In other words, what is the ultimate state of your business? Armed with a crystal clear and compelling vision of your destination, you can lead your organization to accomplish it. Here are some ways you can leverage your strategic vision to create change in your organization.

A strategic vision encourages business and personal alignment. In the absence of a clear strategic direction, employees and even business owners will do what they think will provide the most value in the given moment, as they individually define it.

Whether you know it or not, you’re operating according to a personal vision right now, and every person in your organization is as well. Even if everyone has the best intentions, growth of the business will be slowed because everyone is working on their own definitions of success. Once you’ve clearly defined your vision and shared it, your activities, the activities of your employees and the resources of your business will come into alignment with that common destination.

A strategic vision creates focus. When the economy is in a down cycle, the tendency is to focus on the difficulty of conducting business, the lost opportunities and the impact to the bottom line. This attention to the negative can erode confidence and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By keeping the vision at the forefront of the organization’s awareness, employees and management alike can focus on generating new ideas, planning for the future and seeing new possibilities. It’s much like deciding to buy a particular new car, and then noticing the car everywhere. When we’re focused on a positive outcome, coincidences, resources and opportunities arise as if by magic.

A strategic vision sets a tone of success. A vision is something to reach for. It creates hope and sets expectations. If it’s compelling enough, it will inspire and motivate. The key to extracting this value from your vision is to communicate it passionately and consistently over time. Your employees and your business partners will only buy into the vision as much as you do. If you allow the vision to lay fallow or fall by the wayside, then it’s likely to be treated as “the flavor of the month.”  The more you engrain the vision into daily operations, the more powerful it will become. By weaving the vision into daily planning, performance reviews, staff meetings, and company reports, you can make it part of the fiber of the organization.

An important side benefit you’ll receive is that the more you focus on your own vision, the more it will become a natural part of you. Your belief in the organization’s ability to achieve the vision will drive the belief of others.

A strategic vision guides the decisions of a business. When a company is under pressure, its management may make choices about solving immediate problems that may not be in its long-term interest. When a vision has been established, management is obliged to consider the impact of a decision on the company’s ability to achieve the vision. Ultimately, short-term survival may be paramount, but business owners and managers armed with a vision and facing such choices may discover ways to ensure the company’s survival while preserving its ability to achieve the vision as well.

A strategic vision determines the right metrics. Recently a business owner was pressured by a business partner to close her own business and come work for his. She was debating how to handle this issue, because they did a nice volume of business together. Her vision, however, was to triple the size of her business and sell it in three years. When she analyzed the business she was doing with this partner, it turned out to be the least profitable, most cumbersome set of clients she had. Because she had her vision firmly in mind, she established a minimum profit margin she would accept, as well as a minimum client size. With these new metrics in hand, she began to seek other, more lucrative partnerships that would help her to achieve her vision.

By establishing and communicating a vision, you make a statement that says, “This is what success looks like.” Simply choosing performance measurements that reflect the vision will guide the organization toward its achievement, and keep business activity on track.

A strategic vision need not be written in stone, and you should expect to revisit it from time to time as the market, the organization and its leadership all evolve. But before a vision can be revisited, it first must be visited. When deciding whether or not you have the time to dedicate to the creation of a vision for your business, keep in mind this quote from Christopher Reeve: “If you don’t have a vision, nothing happens.” 

At least, nothing different than what you’ve got going on right now. If there’s something more you’d like to achieve in your professional life, make the necessary investment of time to get clear about what that is. It’s an investment with a very high return.  

Read other articles and learn more about Kim Marcille.

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