Monday, January 23, 2012

Ode to the vision thing

Ok, not really an ode, at least in the English tradition. More a lamentation.

It's been 25 years since the "vision thing" died at the hands lips of the first President Bush.  That phrase, according to Wikipedia, has now become a metonym for an inability to articulate the bigger picture.

A few years later, Lou Gerstner, then recently-installed CEO of a then-troubled IBM, was famously quoted as saying: "the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision."

What is it with vision that evokes such a roll of the eyes and shaking of heads among many leaders, business owners, CEOs and other organizational chiefs?

For many, having a vision recalls images of being lost in the desert, returning with a call to action from some higher authority.  For others, it may conjure images of the Summer of Love.  No business strategies emanate from either of those retreats.  No increased sales or profits, either.

So then, is myopia a virtue for a leader?  Not really, as target fixation often leads to missing the bigger picture.

Let's turn again to Gerstner, and examine his full "vision" quote, delivered at a news conference following his first 100 days at Big Blue:
‘There’s been a  lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision [. . . ] What IBM needs right now is a series of very tough-minded, market driven, highly effective strategies for each of its businesses – strategies that deliver performance in the marketplace and shareholder value."
Later, Gerstner wrote in IBM's 1993 Annual Report, "Some call it mission, some call it vision. I call it strategy."  Few would argue that Gerstner's vision/mission/strategy focused IBM on a successful path forward, when many other US commercial icons have failed to make the turn

For small business owners, having a vision -- both business and personal -- is a critical cornerstone of success.  It acts as the guide for why your business exists, how you achieve your goals and what you, personally, want from your enterprise.  Your vision should be the guide for every decision you make.

Most business owners don't have a personal vision, and company visions are too often amorphous, nebulous statements that are dreamed up by marketing or HR to woo customers, rally employees or affect a desired change in action or attitude.  Organizational leaders are rightly dismissive of such manipulative and ineffective tactics, especially when there is no substance behind the words.

Vision has value to business only to the extent that it is tethered to a well-crafted execution platform, the nuts-and-bolts of how you will deliver that vision to your customers. That's why IBM succeeded where others have failed.

Because, as the father of business management once wrote, getting customers is really the only reason a business exists.

Is it yours? 

No comments: