Recently we met an organisation that had invested considerable time and money into building an attractive new website. When that work was almost complete, they asked us to help them to develop a clear vision for their business. Once they were really clear on the vision, they realised the website would need to be substantially changed to meet their needs. This was a waste of money and time which could have been avoided if only they had worked on the vision first!
While the message is clear for businesses in any industry, we did notice this presenting and talking to over 300 architects in the past 18 months, and while working directly with several practices. We have been surprised by how frequently practice owners are not readily able to articulate what their vision for their practice is – why are you actually in business?
A clear vision that you control and believe in supports effective decision making. That is, decisions are simply made by reference to how aligned they are with your vision. Decisions can be made faster and more effectively as there are some clear criteria to apply. Many people are familiar with the idea that action without strategy can be ineffective. Likewise we suggest strategy without vision can be equally inefficient.
Vision first, then strategy, then action.
Traditionally, vision statements describe where the business wants to be at a point in the future – often some way into the future, say 5 or 10 years. When the vision is defined the company leaders describe in some detail when they want to achieve it. We see this as not true vision but goal setting. Goal setting is important but it is not the whole story.
We describe vision as a space a person or a business inhabits, not an end destination. In defining vision this way we don’t imply time horizons – maybe some visions could get done today, if the business were clear that that was something they were committed to achieving. Companies and people who put their goals five years out generally take five years to get there.
Altus Q’s learning from more than ten years of working with companies and individuals is that putting a date on a goal doesn’t guarantee it will happen when you say – and is more likely to hold you back than help you out.
Vision and Mission Statements fraught with danger
In the 80s and 90s companies created vision statements such as “to become a leading supplier of widgets in Australia”. This statement is very thinking (data) based. It does not connect feelings, and as a result cannot motivate the business owners or their staff. It is only when people can attach feelings to the vision that they become engaged and the vision creates energy and action.
Commercial and Culture Visions
Most businesses focus solely on commercial outcomes – focussing on cultural aspects has been perceived as being ‘soft’ and unnecessary. We disagree!
We believe it is important to have three different but interdependent visions:
- Commercial vision is about data (numbers, $) and grabs the strategy inside your practice. It is re-set over time once achieved.
- Cultural vision is about feelings (people, communication) and intent, and grabs the people inside the practice. It is the higher purpose of the practice. In some industries there are common themes – we observed with architects, for example, a degree of consistency around environmental and sustainability issues – though each business is unique.
- Personal vision is all about you and understanding how the business fits into what you want to do with your life. Is your practice driving your life or is your life driving your practice?
The power of cultural vision in particular is highlighted by the story of Alfred Nobel – the inventor of dynamite. Alfred was horrified to read his own obituary in the paper after a mistake over the death of his brother. What horrified him most was being described as a “merchant of death” and other less than flattering descriptions as he was seen as ‘evil’ for making a fortune from dynamite.
Alfred Nobel had an epiphany and realised his intent was always truly to do ‘good’. The result, and his legacy to the world, was the funding of the Nobel prizes which today remain among the most prestigious awards in the areas of literature, medicine, science and working for world peace.
What will your legacy be?
It may not be quite as grand as that of Alfred Nobel but nonetheless we commend to you the value of taking some time away from your job, thinking about your commercial, cultural and personal vision, and then documenting it in a way that can be articulated and shared with your family and colleagues. You will be delighted at the results.