The fuel of extraordinary companies is not money, but a vision. But how do you actually find a vision and what is important in a good vision? Our guest author has four tips.
What actually distinguishes good companies from inspiring ones? Maybe it’s the success? But then even unknown world market leaders would not have to be able to save themselves from skilled workers. Maybe the stock value? No, because here, too, many of the big names on the international stock exchanges shouldn’t have to worry about reputation. Really inspiring companies and thus also entrepreneurs: inside people have a great vision that people can identify with. Examples of this are Microsoft’s “PC on every desk and in every household” from the 80s or Google’s “access to all information in the world in one click”. But how do you actually get such a vision and what makes a really good vision?
Vision and mission belong together, but what exactly is a vision and what is a mission is a matter of dispute even among experts. Some say the vision describes the why and the mission the how – and the strategy the what. Others define vision and mission the other way around and still others say that the mission describes the impact of a company and the vision the goal that occurs when the mission is achieved. But if it’s such a mess, why bother with it? Quite simply: Because many, who are concerned with a vision for the first time, let themselves be distracted by such nuances.
So the first tip is: keep focus and pragmatism. The combination of vision and mission should answer in a very practical way: Why does the company exist? For what purpose was it established? And which overarching goal should be achieved?
Now we have clarified what a vision and mission should answer. As a result, the question arises as to how to get there: How do I actually find a vision for my company? As is so often the case, there are many ways to success – or to failure. What is basically never expedient is a protracted grassroots competition. Some companies come up with the idea of surveying all employees. With this approach, a committee selects the best ideas and then puts them to the vote on the intranet. The result here is guaranteed averageity and interchangeability. Determining a vision in a quiet little room is not always the ideal way either – but it can work under certain conditions.
In the case of a startup, for example, a top-down approach is expedient. This is where the founders want to show everyone who goes on a journey with them where they should go. In fact, a well-formulated vision is an important key to a startup’s success. Because for a big vision it is worthwhile for the employees: inside also allnighters, chaotic conditions in the company structure and the pressure to work from financing round to financing round. For most companies, however, as is so often the case, a happy medium is recommended. So a good balance between top-down and bottom-up.
The second tip is on the way to a vision: It makes a lot of sense to involve employees, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders in the process of finding. After all, every company has a DNA and sometimes many purposes that distinguish it. A systematic survey of many participants results in a wealth of input on goals, purpose and strengths, from which a vision can then be formed in a small group. Once formulated, however, it is no longer put to a general vote, but presented. So the input is diverse, but the final formulation is in the hands of the management. In this way, an authentic, differentiating vision can be created – and not just the lowest common denominator of an ideas competition.
In the ideal case, we are now faced with a finely worked out vision – but is that also a good vision? And what does “good” actually mean here? We remember the initial question: What defines inspiring companies? In any case, key figures, sales figures and market shares have little to do with a vision. Rather, a good vision is meaningful. It is important to answer the questions from point 1 in such a way that everyone in the company can identify with it and that the vision also has a positive effect on the other stakeholders in the company.
So let’s look again at a few examples: There are the really big visions of Ikea – “To create a better everyday life for many people” – or Disney – “Make people happy”. And there are concrete, tangible visions like those of Microsoft or Google. For small and medium-sized companies and most startups, the oversized visions of world improvement are rather less convincing. It is better if the vision is extremely ambitious, but at the same time very focused: Bringing “the most intelligent accounting software in the world” onto the market is definitely a big goal – but an achievable one. This makes the vision much more tangible for outsiders as well as for employees: inside and other stakeholders of a company than, for example, “Accounting has to be fun” or “Financial software that changes the world”. Concrete economic goals in a vision such as “Number 2 in the German software market” or “The largest best-of-breed provider for accounting software in the DACH market” should be avoided as far as possible. Such formulations are quite widespread, but not very inspiring because they are empty of content.
So tip number 3 is: A good vision is specific and focused. However, a focus presupposes that clear decisions are made and other areas are explicitly excluded. Because: The more pointed the formulation, the more distinguishable the vision from the rest of the market participants.
So the vision is now differentiated, authentic and ready for action. Now let’s learn from the mistakes of others: A significant number of companies are hiding their vision somewhere in the “About Us” section of the website – perhaps it will also find its way into the company report. What is the level of awareness among employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders? It’s probably going to zero. This enormous oversight is often due to the fact that the vision is only one item on the long list of “what a company must have”. Of course, the result is then absolutely ineffective.
If a company is already developing a vision and a mission, then it is not an easy path, but that is exactly why it should be worthwhile. That means: once the two components are in place, then the work really starts. The newly introduced vision must be cultivated and also defended. If it is determined top-down as recommended, this can lead to tensions among employees and other stakeholders – even if they were part of the process. Resolving this area of tension in a positive way is one of the great challenges for companies.
But the finished vision also poses new questions in a very practical way: How does it find its way into the strategy? How are vision and mission reflected in practice? And how do we actually check whether we are still on the right path? The answers to these questions are not rocket science, but they do need attention. Because without constant care, the best visions and missions ultimately degenerate into empty phrases.
This brings the fourth tip to the corporate vision: Visionary corporate management means steering your company according to the vision and mission every day. That means making sure that the peak of the mountain you want to climb remains in focus, even if the path to it changes or has not yet been mapped out in detail.
Do applicants, customers and investors ask about a vision? Do you look it up on the website? Rather no. Entrepreneurs and employees who report on their vision and mission with a smile in their eyes inspire others. Regardless of whether it is about the first trip to Mars or one-off accounting software – with an ambitious goal in mind, tasks become part of a larger whole and thus meaningful and exciting. And that’s what ultimately distinguishes inspiring companies from good ones.