A strong business vision is a foundation for success. It can aid recruitment, boost staff loyalty, transform performance, improve reputation and drive profits.
Business leaders at a recent HSBC Strategies for Growth event heard advice on the elements that make up a powerful vision – and the critical steps to turning it into reality.
1. Shape the right vision
Do you have a vision for your business that you and your employees can articulate if asked?
Only a small proportion of delegates at the event could claim they did – but the overwhelming majority of those said it had enabled their business to be more successful.
Leadership expert James Rose described a business vision as a “marker in the sand” that defines how the business will be known in, say, five years’ time. To be effective, it must blend the practical and the inspirational.
“The vision needs to provide the big picture, while being specific enough to shape decision-making and serve as a guide to organisational plans and strategies,” he explained.
“It should also imply the values that will be required to support the organisation, and challenge your team members to achieve high standards.
“Finally, it must be unique and memorable – highlighting what differentiates your organisation, and why that matters. And it should be inspiring enough to engage people to commit to your cause.”
2. Share it with your people
To win that active buy-in from employees, a vision must be more than well-crafted: it needs to be communicated effectively.
To this end, James Rose encouraged event participants to reflect on their own communication styles, as well as the traits of employees.
According to the ‘zoo’ analogy popularised by Nigel Risner, many business leaders are so-called lions – direct, firm and results-oriented. But that might be the wrong approach to make a message stick with ‘elephants’ (who like detail) or ‘dolphins’ (for whom social cues are important).
Time spent communicating your vision in the best style reaps big rewards, in terms of engaged employees, reduced staff turnover and better recruitment.
Rose cited the example of a visit to NASA by President John F Kennedy, who met an employee sweeping the floor. Asked by the president what his role was, the employee said, “I help to put people in space.”
Rose explained: “Once they’re engaged, your employees are telling their friends and families about it; they’re able to tell their customers and your stakeholders about it.
“Being able to articulate your vision also helps you to define the right people for your business and recruit them, simply because it’s at the forefront of everything you do.”
Being able to articulate your vision also helps you to define the right people for your business and recruit them, simply because it’s at the forefront of everything you do.James Rose, Hemsley Fraser
3. Bring it to life for customers
You and your employees may be fully signed up to your vision, but the critical test is that your customers experience it too.
Rose told delegates his experience of visiting a professional services firm. Their partners believed the first impressions they presented to clients were positive, with friendly receptionists and a comfortable reception area. Rose had to tell them about the bags of rubbish, empty beer bottles and dried leaves in the entranceway. The leaders’ vision and the customers’ perspective were at odds, demonstrating the need to see your business through fresh eyes.
Similarly, a vision of excellent hospitality is undermined if customers experience a disinterested greeting. Employees need to understand not just the vision, but their role in making it reality for clients.
“When you work in your business, you can forget to see it from the customer’s perspective,” Rose concluded. “The customer needs to get a sense of your vision at every touchpoint along the way.”