“Every person above the ordinary
has a certain mission that they are called to fulfill.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Most SMEs start the planning cycle for the year head in late summer and into autumn. Objectives are hammered out, budgets allocated, tactical plans developed and so on. A few still scramble in December – or worse, January - to shape up what the next year should bring. Many of these meetings focus on the immediate, tactical, and commercial needs, such as sales and profit objectives, marketing, and performance etc. And rightly so. However, applying tactical thinking without at least a direction check against a future vision can quickly become a dead end. Tactics and strategy go hand in and. Or in the words of Sun Zu, ancient Chinese strategist: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
The strategic planning of your organization is one of the most important drivers of success. Perhaps this is an even more important point to stress for SMEs. Unless your organization really understands who you are (strategic core, purpose and values), where you want to go (strategic vision), your capabilities and strengths (core product/competencies), it is difficult to get the most out of your team, your clients and your partners.
The Core of Strategy
Putting Purpose at the core of business strategy will connect employees, suppliers and customers in unprecedented ways. Meaning is essential and when appropriately embedded, can shape culture. And in times where competition and undifferentiated products or services are on the rise, culture is no longer a nice to have, but a competitive advantage. According to a Deloitte survey, 73% of employees who say they work in a Purpose-oriented company are engaged, compared to 23% of those who don’t. Strategic Purpose at the core is a must-have to build strong internal cultures. It provides employees with a sense of belonging and helps them understand their role within the bigger picture. Research conducted by McKinsey confirms that meaning drives higher workplace productivity and in turn growth and profit. Employees of Purpose-driven organizations go the extra mile because it is motivating to be able to contribute to meaning beyond their paycheck. The workforce of a meaningful organization goes the extra mile not because they are told to but because they want to.
Providing Direction (Visibly)
It is of practical importance to envision where the firm is going in the future because vision provides a visual and even a visible sense of direction. If you don’t know where you’re headed, how on earth will you get there? Or as the founder of Ralph Lauren put it: “A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.”
“Leaders must invoke an alchemy of great vision.”
– Henry Kissinger
But a vision must not be visible only to the C-Suite. When only the leadership sees it, it remains their imagination. When a group of people sees it, it is now closer to reality. Those that lead an enterprise need to be able to make their teams, partners or networks see their vision and motivate to follow them. This is how you get others on board. I believe it when I see it.
Making it Tangible
Neither Purpose nor Vision can live in isolation. To make a direction and expectations tangible, we need to think beyond Zooms, Slacks and PowerPoints. And just like for brand building, awareness, consistency, and frequency are key to get a team and an entire eco-system aligned.
How do you put your vision or mission into practice at every level of your organization? A real vision can guide the decision-making in your day-to-day works. In the words of Patrick Thomas, former CEO of Hermès, “if you have a strong vision your management decisions are almost obvious”. The real power of a vision or a mission is revealed when it is lived throughout the organization.
“If you have a strong vision
your management decisions are almost obvious.”
– Patrick Thomas (ex-CEO of Hermès)
In our agency, for example, we created a Vision Board. In simple terms, we frame our Purpose and values on the left, our positioning and core proposition as well as capabilities form the engine in the middle and our objectives clearly set out where we want to be towards the right.
Our Vision Board is quite literally a “board” – printed in large and prominent in our coffee-area so we continuously perceive it. Sometimes consciously for a discussion point. Most often unconsciously – but the key point is: it’s tangible and visible. For a short video on what this looks like, see here.
If your vision statement exists merely on a hard-to-access section of your website, then forget about it. It needs to be present beyond the website. The ed-tech company Coursera is a good example. The company’s mission statement is ‘Providing universal access to the world’s best education.’ Coursera makes courses from the most prestigious universities around the world accessible no matter where you reside. It doesn’t merely promise to democratize education; it actually delivers it.
Five Tips for SMEs
It’s not enough just to brainstorm your vision with your leadership team in an office or update our organization once a year in a town-hall. It’s not enough just to put it on the website. Understanding and true adoption by the team is what is needed. If your team doesn’t truly and fully understand or worse, if they misunderstand why you exist and what you stand for (Purpose, Values), where you want to go (Vision), where your focus is, how you differentiate and how you add value to your customers (Value Proposition), and what tangible expectations you have (Objectives), then it means you haven’t communicated clearly, simply and visibly enough.
Here are five simple ways to get started:
This way the companies can achieve more clarity, motivation, connection, efficiency, measurability and accountability internally. As a direct consequence of that, there are better results and improved performance.
The real power of a vision statement is revealed when it is lived throughout your organization. A real vision guides the decision making in your day-to-day work. If you’re not sure on where to start with your Vision, then here is a thought starter from Markus Kramer on this.