Assessing the aspirational dimensions of your vision

Why is it that no one agrees on what a vision statement should look like or how it should be written? With a million attempts under our collective belts, should we have not figured out how to standardize this? On the surface, yes. When you look below, probably not.

There are both organizational and leadership intangibles as well as industry variables and competitive dynamics as well. But let’s look at a way of breaking a vision down to understand some of the considerations behind how to build one:

1) Market impact: Are you trying to change the world or fit into it?

Market impact is often about a sense of the real capacity of the organization, as a combination of leadership, positioning, advantages, assets, and vision. Smaller desire for impact is characterized by describing accomplishments that are closer to what is existing. “To be the preferred provider in our current market space, with our current customers.” This is a “don’t rock the boat” vision. And often these leaders are very proud, this “hits the nail on the head” for them. Those with greater market impact speaks to those with the vision to disrupt current or multiple industries.

If you discuss Porter’s five forces, you’ll have a pretty good idea about what your organization is trying to do, in the context of your competitors. Are you a close follower, or are you setting the tone for others that you’d prefer are forced to follow you? Is everyone minding the fences, or is there a degree of rallying for space?

2) Innovation: Are you bringing something new?

Innovation is about how you plan to make the market impact. To what extent are you bringing something better or new to the table? Some organizations innovate on relationship management, product development or operational effectiveness. Others use the blue ocean strategy and create new markets from scratch. Apple does their thing. 3M lives and breathes invention. Starbucks is selling coffee, but isn’t competing against many other coffee retailers. These companies are doing something different that makes it difficult or impossible to replicate. Hence the “tribe” that so readily identifies with their brand.

3) Reach: What corner of the world are you taking over?

Reach pertains to how aggressive your organization is going to be about competitive rivalry, growth rates, and whose customers you’re taking. From an adjacency matrix standpoint, are you selling more to existing or selling existing to more customers? Are you protecting your niche or taking over the world. How aggressive will your organization be about doing what it does?

An organization is only positioned to achieve significant advancements when 1) there is a great deal of clarity as to the vision and strategy 2) the organization relentlessly aligns its resources through effective implementation 3) the vision selected was insightful and bold enough to generate a unique competitive advantage. So that sounds simple… 1,2,3.

So, before you write a vision statement, think about these things. Don’t put pen to paper until you have a sense of how big it should be.

All of these things should help you choose your value discipline, as the operations should be pushing in a single direction. But it all begins with the vision.

Final piece of advice. The companies with the biggest vision will never use a formula. It’s something you know when you have it, but it will never flow from a spreadsheet. It’s about envisioning something that doesn’t exist today, and making it real for a group of people that will bring it to life.

Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Wisdom

When you think about the environmental analysis or research processes your organization uses, to what extent do you notice continuous “up-sampling” of the information? Is it constantly becoming more insightful, or do you notice a lot of starts/stops and blank pages. Are the sections to the reports that don’t hold strategic value, or is it all “meat”?

With environmental analysis, you should almost never have to start with a blank page. A blank page leaves behind the work you have done that got you to this point. The only exception is if you’re testing for outliers or challenging existing assumptions. Short of that, a blank page is a broken process.

– Every team should have access to a current, corporate view of the business environment, including key risks and opportunities
– Everyone should contribute to the view, it should be a 2 way street.
– Information should always be rated, tested, used to predict, and have input to strategy.
– These processes should operate iteratively, circularly and constantly.

Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Wisdom

Measure many dimensions

It’s important to maintain multiple types of measures. The reason for this is simple: you use measurement for a variety of purposes. Hence, while you don’t want to maintain copious or superfluous measures, you do want to cover the angles.

Here’s a view I built to break it down:

You want:
– Internal and external measures: Internal processes create external value, you need to manage both.
– Leading and lagging: Some measures predict, others prove. You need both pieces of information.

External lagging measures provide a benchmark of what others are doing. External leading measures predict where industry trends will lead. Internal lagging measures help you learn, measure outcomes, and prove performance. Internal leading measures help you predict risks so they can be mitigated.

Risks, yes. But do you have any control?

2 great questions to consider when analyzing your corporate environment (factors that have the potential to impact strategy implementation) are:

1) What is the intensity of the factor (likelihood, impact)?
2) What is the degree of control you have?

Risk management processes often focus only on likelihood and impact, however, control is an important consideration as well. It’s what defines what your options are, after all. If you’re running this process to help formulate strategy as opposed to running a board risk process, you may also consider listing opportunities as well.

Here’s one way to look at your environment: