February 18, 2008 | last updated March 26, 2012 2:26 am

Know How: Visionary Visions

How to avoid becoming Dilbert's pointy-haired boss

BY Stephen R. Balzac

Special to the Worcester Business Journal

At many businesses, I've noticed that few people can answer the question, "What are you trying to accomplish?" They can talk about products or milestones, but not about how the company will make a difference in the world. Even when the company does have a vision of what it is doing and where it is going, few people are able to articulate that vision.

Dilbert aptly pokes fun at the vague, vacuous, and all too self-important visions many organizations develop. However, a well-crafted vision is a shared sense of where the organization is going.

The Basics

A vision statement describes the desires, beliefs, hopes and aspirations of the business. It is realistic, challenging, attainable and flows naturally from the organization's values. It answers a few basic questions:

Who are we?

Where are we going?

How will the world be different, even if in only a small way, if we're successful?

Why should our current members or employees want to work towards this vision?

Why might others want to join us in helping bring this vision to fruition?

How will we know if we're making progress?

How will we know when we get there?

A vision should be short; if it takes more than five minutes to convey, you've lost your audience.

Getting Buy-In

Key to a successful vision is involving all significant stakeholders. If people feel excluded, it's harder to sell them the vision later, and they will be less committed. Honing down and bringing together the disparate views of multiple people is an iterative process.

Microsoft's early vision was, "A PC on every desk and in every home." While there are certainly remote regions lacking PCs, Microsoft's vision is effectively reality. Along the way, company leaders had some clear metrics for evaluating success. That focused their resources, making them one of the most successful businesses in history. Their vision defined Microsoft, told them and everyone else where they were going, stated how the world would be different, inspired people to care, and made progress easy to track.

Today, Microsoft's vision is, "To help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential."

What does that mean? How can they tell if they are making progress? What if the best way of accomplishing it was to encourage everyone to buy Apple? As a clear destination, it is somewhat lacking. It could have been written by Dilbert's pointy-haired boss.

By comparison, Google's vision is, "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Like Microsoft's original vision, it is short, clear, measurable, and does the following:

It defines Google: a company that finds and organizes information.

It tells everyone where Google is going and how they will know when they get there.

It clearly states how the world will be different: information that is scattered and disorganized today will be available and easily accessible tomorrow.

While it is impossible to predict where Google will be in 30 years, its success to date demonstrates the power of a simple, clear, compelling vision.

Stephen Balzac is president of 7 Steps Ahead LLC of Stow.
He can be reached at steve@7stepsahead.com or 978-298-5189.


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