The Power of Vision

By Bill Dann, BoardGrowth Founder

In a chance encounter the other day, a quote was shared with me that stirred up thoughts about my experience with the power of compelling visions in organizations. The quote was from Walt Disney, who said, “If the vision is clear, the decisions are easy”. Disney’s innovation and success are testament enough to the truth. I looked over the several hundred strategic plans our company has completed and asked myself if this rings true for me. Well, it does, and here are some examples.

The power of a compelling vision
Years ago I worked with a highly successful string of natural food stores in Southern California whose management had stalled out. Lacking a vision of the future, both store and middle managers were becoming a bit disillusioned. They had left the big chain stores because of the opportunity they saw with this growing company. However, that opportunity seemed to be fading. There was no sense of future.

I worked with the board and top management, and we created a very compelling vision of national growth. When the vision was announced to management, the energy in the room dramatically shifted, and the group went to work on detailed plans. That next year, the company had its best year ever.

In another instance, I worked with a regional native corporation in Alaska that also was stalled in its performance. Again, the board crafted a very aggressive vision in partnership with its CEO. The CEO, being very competitive as many CEO’s are, immediately announced that though challenged, he would blow them away by achieving the 20 year vision well ahead of time. Indeed, he did.

And I could list numerous other examples from our clients’ visions.

Why this works
My take is that we human beings typically respond to challenges well. Tell someone you doubt they can get there, and they will amp up their productivity to prove you wrong.

So, Disney is right…and then some. It is not just that the decisions become easy, the work takes on greater importance. On several occasions, I have seen CEOs and boards immediately respond to a compelling vision by literally saying, “we need to get to work”.

The fear of failure or desire to reach the goal compels them to actions that they haven’t taken before.

To illustrate, the following quotes were statements I heard in response to first hearing of the vision defined by a board:

    “Management, you need to bring us back a set of measures that will tell us we are making progress.”
    “If that is what the board expects, then we better get moving. We aren’t going to get there with the performance we have had of late.”

From within the board itself, a clear vision and sense of purpose can be the key to unlocking your board when you are stuck on a decision before you. Simply ask yourself, would a “yes” or a “no” best serve the purpose and vision of the company? If the decision is not aligned to the purpose and vision, it may be prudent to vote “no”.

How to move forward?
The first answer is obvious, do you have a vision? And following on that question’s heels, is that vision so challenging that there is some anxiety that you won’t make it? James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras call it a “BHAG” or “Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal”, in their outstanding Harvard Business Review article, Building Your Company’s Vision. If your vision is just at the edge of what you think is doable, then you have it right.strategy

After you have a good “BHAG-type” vision, ask if it is strong enough to compel staff to action. If it isn’t, then it won’t have the effect of galvanizing effort.

How do you know? When I am facilitating strategic planning sessions, having done this countless times, I can feel it. When the board is satisfied that they think they have it, and I know they don’t, I will turn to the CEO and ask, “will that vision excite the troops?” If the answer is “no”, then I tell the board they need to keep working. They need to start a dialogue with the CEO regarding what would excite the troops.

If you sense that your company needs a jump start, defining or revisiting core ideology is the strategy to correct this. Go through these questions in an honest exchange with your CEO, and then recharge your company if needed.

If you would like a copy of the Collins and Porras Harvard Business Review Article or information on how we go about getting this defined for companies, contact us.