If I should think of one single most important thing for the company than I would think vision. In the usual sense as your final, but ultimately unreachable goal and wider as the whole path you have chosen to it. In that sense it is your true North and also shows the direction and roads on which company should be moving. The same is for us personally. If we know where we are headed it is easier to see whether some choices will take us there.
Vision is not a nice slogan or a picture in your office. In order to be alive you need to show your vision everyday by the way how you actually do things. It starts as your internal dream, after analyzing all outside and inside factors, but it is only alive when you externalize it through activities and communication i.e. all the things you do daily to reach that vision and different strategies you employ for that purpose. And if it’s not the same as you imagined, seen from the outside and grasped by your customers, then you are not doing something right.
Your customers have perception of you by looking at all actions you engage in. Based on that, they feel the character of your company and decide whether they like your products, attitude, culture. So for me vision is basically all about finding ways how you properly execute it in a sense that you radiate your message and customers are able to grasp it in the way you intended.
The bigger the team you lead the bigger the importance of the vision.
In order for the company to move in certain direction you first need to agree where you are going, then how you will come there by acquiring competitive strategic advantage and then to define specific tactics, KPI and activities for team members. This is your deliberate strategy. And then life happens. And you should be prepared to adapt how you do things (emerging strategy) and try not to lose your vision along the way.
Among many existing tools there is in lean philosophy a very good one (Hoshin Kanri; Catchball) that can be used to deploy your vision and strategy into smaller goals and actions and recheck their consistency with the big picture you agreed to make. This deployment can also show you which of your processes do not comply with the big idea and could be the start of your improvement efforts in terms of optimization or innovation.
The same tool also enables team members to practice and calibrate their position. Possibility to chunk up and down from vision to daily steps and vice versa in order to provide consistency is one of the most desired features in team. It enables systemic thinking. We could also use it as a good starting point to notice and communicate the need for change. First step with change is creating a sense of urgency and you will feel it after using the tool.
And when talking about team members there are some things that can stand in a way of their acceptance of change. Fear or problems that change instills in your team are different but always exist. Some of team members may be having the biggest problem of being afraid of the unknown and not ready to think of possibilities, some accept novelties immediately but sabotage themselves by not being able to make plans, follow the action steps and go through milestones, some get lost or procrastinate along the way, some do not plan for the obstacles and how they would overcome them, some underestimate team or systems resistance and the need to be persistent and creative in solving problems.
That’s when they need to be supported and coached internally and often externally, as well. So carefully managing change and alignment on the way, having in mind human nature (including yours as a leader) is the way to vision.
As a leader you need to be present enough and give feedback to your team members when things go right way but also to notice inconsistencies with the vision, strategy or energy drop in coping with the challenges.
And then, to become even more interesting, the game in today’s world has more levels than it had for the last century, when a lot of the progress you could reach by proper focus and execution in production, operations, sales and marketing… Now we are speaking about collaboration, sharing, autonomy, business models, people over processes and tools… Soft skills from the past become hard skills of today and there are many even softer that challenge modern leaders on the way to vision.
Today we are not speaking anymore about the vision as solely the goal of your company. We speak about it in terms of purpose. We speak about it systemically and holistic. What impact and contribution you would bring to the world? Why do you exist and which values you share and promote?
Today we could be in the constant spiral of emerging strategies and many different ways to achieve the vision and purpose. So we should not be stuck on one road, than cling to the final purpose and to the impact and improvement we wanted to make. We should try to find the best ways to reach it having in mind that just optimization and improvement of what you already do in today’s world are not closely enough.
Today no vision goes without innovation. And innovation is not necessarily always invention. Sometimes it’s just new combination, new model, different way of doing things, borrowed features.
You need to innovate and introduce new business models, products, services. Fast! Not by making huge plans and preparations. Then by experimenting. Try, be curious and learn along the way. Be prepared to change, adopt new way if you see that circumstances changed.
Today there are different frameworks to cope with this uncertainty of innovation. There is Design thinking which would help you to observe your customers’ „job to be done“, see problems or unmet needs they have, and help you to make and experiment with a product or service that can be one of potential solutions. You can also use Lean startup that basically starts from your innovative idea with the logic to test it as fast and cheap as possible. And then learn about your customer’ acceptance of the idea along the way and adapt it. To accompany there are other agile methods that help in implementation and digital execution of your ideas.
So there are many possible solutions. Bearing in mind that work with all these frameworks can be blurred, overlapping and filled with options, having clear vision and purpose, will keep you in the right direction. That will also provide energy necessary to accomplish things and curiously cope with unpredictability of the outcomes, with the belief in the guiding process you have chosen.
Especially for we need to be aware that we are going to be working with some sort of good enough from now on, for perfect takes time. And how to define where to stop is challenge by itself.
Steve Jobs once said that we overestimate changes that will happen in 2 years and underestimate ones that will come in 10. Having in mind that it is not going to get any more slowly and less turbulent, seems wise to curiously dive into uncertainty with the trust in people and the process you have chosen to follow.
And most important never compromise with your vision, purpose and values.