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Why blue-sky thinking matters even in today’s time of upheaval and change

February 17th 2021 By Sarah Chapman | Founder and Managing Director

Great Vision Powers Progress

“Why does my business need a Vision?” is a question I am often asked.  Is this just corporate marketing speak? And is there really a benefit anyway?

It is not a difficult question to answer for me. In my view, to be successful, an organisation needs to define why it exists and what it wants to achieve. Having a common purpose and a goal provides direction and guides decision making and surely is the essence of Vision. Mission statements, address actions for now, and vision statements, focus on the future. Both play a pivotal part – or should, in the strategic planning process. Without a sense of purpose and direction, it’s nearly impossible to thoughtfully prepare for the future, let alone what to do tomorrow. Nike’s “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” and LinkedIn’s “To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce” are good examples of vision statements.

This is at the heart of what makes you want to get up in the morning and do your work. A powerful vision will inspire your staff and drive them to do their best. The vision defines what that success looks like and feels like. And by imagining the achievement of that goal, the vision can become reality.

In Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs we understand that having hopefully established safety, love and financial success we can then spend time on self-actualisation – ‘what is it all about’ and ‘what have I done to give my life purpose?”. Sadly, as we deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, it may seem like a luxury to be considering that higher Vision, or sense of purpose.

With the world reeling from the impact of the pandemic, we surely need vision more than ever. We need to believe that we will get through this and that things will get better.

A vision, combined with resilience, drive and positivity, helps focus the business through troubled times and should be ambitious, clear, and inspirational. As leaders, we need to lead and to do that, we need to provide a future focus to our employees. Strong vision statements which centre on an organisation’s hopes and values, remain central to giving a business shape and direction. Communicated effectively, they motivate, unite, and energise the workforce.

Some top tips for writing your own vision statement are:

  1. Visualise a Big Hairy Audacious Goal – a ‘BHAG’!
  2. The statement, written in the present tense, should be short, simple, and ambitious.
  3. When it truly reflects your hopes and business values for the future, communicate it repeatedly both internally to your people who are key to the delivery of the vision, and externally through social media, in brochures, in meetings and by email.
  4. Review your vision statement every few years, and if you feel it is not the right fit for your evolving business, or is not audacious enough, change it.
  5. Challenge yourselves to aim high.

 

Reach for the stars!

When developing your Vision, you need to consider setting Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG) – to really aspire to something great and significant. Vision is much more than reaching a certain share price, turnover or market share: it’s the bigger picture of what your company and your people are working towards.

There are some great examples of visionary leadership throughout our history – President JF Kennedy’s Vision led to a man landing on the moon in 1969.  Amid the ‘Cold War’, he wanted to beat the Russians into space, and was galvanised into action when Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth. He brought his leadership team together and with the brief to the Vice President and the space scientific team, set out his enormous challenge “To land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and to return him to earth safely”. This vision became the space mission and the tactics required to achieve this became the work of NASA. They achieved their Vision in July of 1969. By visualising the goal and setting the target date, the objectives became clear to the whole world – and the rest was easy (!).

More than 50 years later Elon Musk, CEO and founder of Space X, has told his workforce: “We’re going to land people on Mars by 2025”. Given Musk’s remarkable accomplishments so far with the development of the Tesla electric car, Hyperloop and most recently the historic SpaceX launch to the International Space Station – his inspirational vision statement to his team may well come true.

People who paint a picture in their mind, often see it realised. Top athletes regularly practice the power of visualisation to prepare for competition. More generally, as studies by psychologists show, visualising ourselves as fitter, healthier or maybe owning that new car helps us focus to achieving those goals. In schools, universities, and organisations throughout the world, we are often asked to visualise our future: “What does success look like to you?” Of course, everyone’s personal vision is different: money is not everything and neither is being the CEO of a major company.

Collins and Porras in their book ‘From Good to Great’ explain how the best organisations are NOT built solely on the merits of one single leader, but how that leader creates a culture where the ethos and vision of the founder permeates throughout the whole organisation. A story about President John F Kennedy’s encounter with a janitor when visiting the NASA Space Centre in 1962 is a powerful illustration of an employee believing that they contribute to the larger story. Having stopped to introduce himself, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”, the reply was, “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Vision statements as a lodestar

Achieving this degree of shared purpose across an organisation is not easy or the norm, but there are good examples such as Walt Disney with Disney and Steve Jobs with Apple. These companies enjoy enduring success because they have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world. When Microsoft was founded in 1975, the galvanising idea was “To have computer on every desk and in every home.” With technology advancing, by 2017, the vision became, “To help people and businesses throughout the world realise their full potential.” Both vision statements were BHAG’s and outlined their core purpose at that time but were changed once the first vision was achieved.

Within the built environment there are also examples of clear and purposeful vision statements that set out what the companies are striving to do beyond being successful financially. For Wilmott Dixon, which came 5th in this year’s Sunday Times 100 best companies list, it is to “build on our history and reputation by undertaking our activities in a sustainable and responsible manner that contributes to society as a whole.” Property developer, Sir Stuart Lipton, has described his vision of development as a force for social good. And Landsec talks about how “We create places that make a lasting positive contribution to our communities and our planet.”

Our vision statement at Chapman Consulting is “To be the leading strategic marketing consultancy in the built environment”.  Our vision was developed back in 2011 when we developed the SBDR and Power 100 products and it now forms part of every piece of work that we do. We are still working towards this vision and continually striving for excellence.  I reflect on this statement every day and it has become my mantra for how I want us to deliver to our clients. We measure every touchpoint and activity against this vision to determine where we need to improve, what ‘leading’ might mean and consider how this could help us improve.

We have delivered some outstanding work for our valued clients, in strategic consultancy and with our creative and digital work, as well as in our communications. One key benefit to having a vision statement, is also to act as a means for seeing what is really true and not just wishful thinking and it acts as a benchmark by which we can assess our progress. We are constantly asking ourselves – did we lead there, did we do the best here, did we deliver exceptionally here – and this keeps us on our toes. The team are fantastic and some of them have themselves worked in leading businesses. Their experience and capability, loyalty, and dedication has certainly contributed to our vision as ‘leaders in our field’. I suppose one of the best measures of our success and staying true to our vision is the high number of repeat business clients. I am very proud of the fact that we have long-standing customers where we still provide support and have done for over 10 years.

Finally, people with vision are worth listening to.

Polish-born Monika Slowikowska, boss of Golden Houses Development and the 2017’s winner of ` London Building Excellence Award, and Best Woman Contractor at The European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards, is one such person.

Her vision for her company – “A team focused on solutions not problems, whilst at the same time maintaining a relentless drive towards perfection”, has led to its meteoric rise in the UK construction sector during the last decade.

Looking to the future during the pandemic, which has made it harder to get materials and has led to some redundancies, she says:

“It is very easy to give up when the situation is bleak. To move forward requires flexibility and creativity.  I have grown the most due to challenges rather than success. My personal belief as I look to the future is, if I expect bad things, they will happen, but if I expect good things and approach issues with the right rationale, I am much more likely to succeed. For me, every challenge has a silver lining. We need to change as an industry and get down to the business of how to build effectively in the most efficient ways”.

If you need help developing your vision, to develop your strategic plan please do get in touch. Taking that first step by contacting me or my team, is the first step towards achieving that vision.

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