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“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” – George Washington Carver

Last week in this space we talked about “relentless vision” and the idea that one of your key responsibilities as a leader is to pursue your vision for the organization with tenacity.  That sounds great – except that a lot of businesses don’t have a clearly defined vision.  It’s pretty hard to relentlessly pursue your vision if you don’t have one to begin with.  So why do so many businesses lack vision?

There are probably lots of reasons, but past experience seems to indicate that it boils down to one basic problem:  Creating a vision is hard.  It’s hard because our brains are constantly distracted from what we want the future to be by what the present is.  It’s hard because we are so consumed by putting out today’s fires that we don’t think about painting tomorrow’s picture.  It’s hard because we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that sitting and thinking about the future is less valuable that accomplishing tasks.  And it’s hard because most people aren’t sure how to go about it.

There is a process we use to help people through the visioning process.  It’s fairly simple, and it begins by asking yourself questions about your future:

  1. What will we do?  Maybe today you develop your own products, manufacture them, market them and sell them.  Will you still do that in the future?  Maybe you’ll focus on product development.  Maybe you’ll just manufacture what others ask you to make.  What will be your core activities?
  2. What will we excel at?  Your success up to the present has probably been due to certain strengths your business has – maybe communication, marketing, R&D, etc.  Will those same strengths carry you in the future?  Or will you have to develop new ones?
  3. What will be our reputation?  Perhaps today your company is known as a leader in customer service.  Will that be your reputation in the future?  What do you want your reputation to be?
  4. Who will our customers be?  Your business currently has a successful customer base or you wouldn’t be here.  Will that base still be around in the future?  For example, one hundred years ago if you sold your product to people who manufactured horse drawn carriages, you might have been successful – but as time went by your customers would have disappeared.  
  5. What will the characteristics our customers will possess?   How would you like to describe your customers?  Businesses?  Individuals?  Perhaps you would like to serve a global market.  Perhaps you want customers who only purchase in large quantities, or only purchase specific items.  
  6. What will your customers value?  Perhaps your customers will value turnaround time above all else.  Maybe they will value the ability to do business with you on-line.  Maybe they’ll only care about price.  What will matter to them?
  7. What will be on your invoice?  What exactly is it people will be paying you for?  Will you be charging for consulting?  Licensing fees?  On-line templates?  You will be making money by producing a good or service – what will that be?
  8. How will you measure success?  Perhaps the number one metric will be profit.  Perhaps it will be related to people.  Maybe it’s customer retention.  How will you know you’ve succeeded?

Some of those questions overlap, but you get the idea.  Through thinking about and analyzing those items you begin to create a picture in your head of what your company’s future might look like.  There are other things to think about when creating your vision, but at least that’s a start.

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