THE VISION THING (Part One)

20 05 2010

When he was President of the United States, George Bush senior was once asked about his longer term view. In response, he mumbled a bit before saying “oh yeah, the vision thing” confirming in one disastrous (to him) sound bite that he simply did not understand the need to establish a vision as the focus of your strategic planning.

As a direct result, to this day the former President has failed to shake off the reputation he gained as a short term thinker; hardly ideal for the ‘leader of the free world!’

But what is, as Bush put it; ‘the vision thing?’

Well, you’d be surprised how few companies, large as well as small, actually get this right, including more than a few who enjoyed mocking poor old George.

I was recently discussing this story with a client who assumed they had ‘the vision thing’ sorted and who proceeded to proudly tell me theirs. Unfortunately their vision was not really a vision, nor was it a mission statement (more of which later). What it was, was a hybrid of the two which fell short of being either, thus failing to provide either direction or focus to their strategic planning.

So; you there. Yes; you. The one reading this blog. What is the difference between your mission statement and your vision? Why shouldn’t they be merged into one? And, why do you even need them?

Let’s start with the Mission Statement. If you are in business on your own or in a small partnership you probably know, roughly, what yours is. The problem is, as your business grows and you get pulled in different directions you might forget it if you haven’t recorded it.

For your Mission Statement is the very core of your business, in fact it is why you are in business at all. It doesn’t need to be flashy, motivational or carry bells and whistles; it just needs to be an accurate statement of fact which easily reminds you and your staff why you exist.

It is unlikely that your company Mission Statement will change very much although you should stay aware that sometimes progress leaves inadaptable companies behind and be prepared to review it if the line of business you are in is becoming outdated and superseded. We can all think of companies that went to the wall because they slavishly continued manufacturing products the world no longer wanted.

The Mission Statement can be long or short, the key is to be descriptive and true to your reason for existing.

A long mission statement might not make engaging reading but can provide for complete accuracy in describing your purpose for being. A good example would be the Mission Statement of Hubbs Machine & Manufacturing Inc. of Cedar Hills in Missouri, USA:

Hubbs Machine & Mfg. Inc. will design, develop, manufacture in house, inventory and distribute Optical Targeting and Accessories that support Close Tolerance Industrial Survey Systems such as Computer Aided Theodolites, Photogrammetry Systems, Laser Trackers and other emerging measurement systems. In addition we will be supporting those systems that have yet to be discovered. We understand and appreciate the many challenges the system users face regarding accuracy, complexity and deadline. We will support those users and their deadlines to the best of our ability. Not only with the common off the shelf items, but also diverse and custom items made especially for your particular project. Hubbs Machine & Mfg. Inc. is a valuable tool to you, the end system user, by manufacturing and providing not only common items but also non-standard, small quantity and difficult items as well. Hubbs Machine & Mfg. Inc. is one of many important and necessary links in a long chain of events that must take place in order to bring your project to a successful completion. We will do our best to make that successful completion happen.

Shorter, punchier mission statements can be just as effective while leaving far more leeway for a company to evolve in fast moving markets. Take Hewlett Packard (HP) for example:

Make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity.

That sounds great, leaves plenty of ‘wriggle room’ and yet still describes why HP exists.

But if you’re looking for a great mission statement that really tells you why the company exists yet doesn’t waste words, try this from Wal-Mart:

Give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people.

Okay, those watching closely will realise that Wal-Mart have changed their mission statement without changing their mission. As I said, you shouldn’t need to change your mission but that doesn’t mean you can’t. The Wal-Mart website now states simply that ‘our company’s purpose is’:

Saving people money so they can live better.

Both are simple, to the point and unarguably why Wal-Mart is in business.

And what of the vision. One of the world’s leading strategists, Jacques Horovitz, phrased it superbly:

The vision is what enables us to define the future, to work towards a specific objective.

Tomorrow, in part two, I will look more closely at the vision thing and provide some examples, some good, some not so good!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010

jim.cowan@cowanglobal.net


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