A viable vision

Successful companies don’t just happen — they are made to happen by the powerful interaction of energetic leaders and committed employees.

A key element in achieving that interaction is the creation of a clear and compelling vision for your business, a vision that allows everyone to work toward the same end.

At its best, a vision consists of a clear, vivid, descriptive image of what you want your business to look like five, 10 or even 50 years into the future, and a straightforward description of what the firm stands for and why it exists. For a vision to motivate others, it must be compelling to them.

But it is also critical that the vision gets the leader’s juices flowing, because more than anyone else in the company, the leader has the power to make or break the vision by direct and indirect actions.

I’ve worked with business leaders from a variety of industries to help them craft and share a vision that will help bring about the successful interaction of leaders and employees. I’ve seen how effective a vision can be in setting the direction of all types of companies.

Creating a vision for your company can help you gain a new perspective on your organization. A few years ago, a client was appointed president of a $20 million manufacturing business. He told me he was just not visionary, and he could not craft a vision for the firm.

Even after the leadership team created a company vision, he was so focused on near-term issues that he couldn’t hold onto the vision, and he made decisions on the basis of what was most urgent.

As we focused on his lack of vision, he learned to see his company from a long-term perspective, which led to him making decisions based on investing in the company rather than minimizing expenses. The entire work force has become more motivated, the company has grown and that client sees new possibilities for the business.

There are leaders who have no trouble creating a vision. One sole proprietor of a service business I was helping used a clear vision to lead his company to significant and profitable growth. Unfortunately, no one else in the company lived the vision like that owner did, which has caused him tremendous frustration and forced him to expend significant energy keeping the business moving in the right direction.

His problem is not unusual. For many reasons, leaders can be slow to share the vision with others. But to reach the next level, entrepreneurs must encourage others to know and be excited by the company vision. I am working with that owner to put in place the systems, structures and development needed for others to understand the vision and move in its direction.

The power of a company vision to keep everyone on the same page can be especially useful to a partnership. Three partners I worked with were successfully increasing revenue in their professional services business, but interaction with their staff was becoming increasingly frustrating. For the partners, few employees were living up to their expectations. For the staff, there was little direction, and there were no business systems in place to support efficient work flow.

As the partners developed a vision for the future, they got to know each other better. Not only did they establish a direction that they all bought into, they also learned what to expect from each other and from their staff. One year after beginning the visioning process, the partners report that people are on the same page, lines of communication are open and the firm has a much better atmosphere.

A common vision — held by a critical mass of people in your company — provides the focus for everyone to work toward the same end. In companies without a vision or focus, people make decisions based on their own perception of where the organization needs to be going and often find themselves at cross-purposes with others.

A clear vision is the underpinning for aligned goals, appropriate systems and targeted resource decisions. Laurie Zuckerman is president of Akron-based Zuckerman Consulting Group. She coaches top executives to become effective, knowledgeable leaders. She can be reached at [email protected].