Monday, 22 May 2017IMS HomepageHome

Creating a Compelling Vision

By Professor Coulson-Thomas

Are your people, and those with whom you deal, clear about what your organisation is endeavouring to achieve? Colin Coulson-Thomas author of a new guide to competing and winning* reveals what leaders of the most successful companies do differently when setting about the strategically important task of visioning.

A stretching, distinctive and compelling vision that paints a picture of a future, desired and attainable state of affairs can engage and motivate. A clear vision is of value internally and externally. Internally it motivates people to achieve and focus their efforts, while externally the vision should differentiate a company from its competitors.

The board is primarily responsible for formulating and agreeing a company’s strategic vision and ensuring its implementation. In some companies particular individuals have been given the specific task of ensuring that a corporate vision remains current and vital. These keepers of the vision attract various job titles. At someone known as the Chief Visionary undertakes the role.

A vision should capture the essence of what a company is all about. At the start of the new millennium Steve Ballmer became CEO of Microsoft. His predecessor Bill Gates a co-founder of the company assumed the title of chairman and chief software architect. The latter role allows Gates to return to his roots and the activities he most enjoys. It also reflects the importance of a strategic vision in the development of new technologies.

Some visions motivate more than others. Staff at the BBC became much more engaged when the public broadcaster’s vision was changed from ‘to be the best managed organisation in the public sector’ and became ‘to be the world’s most creative organisation’. A vision and a mission statement should balance the needs of both individuals and the organisation along the lines of Amazon’s ‘Work Hard, Have Fun, Make History’.

Internally and externally, the common and shared element of a vision should be a unifying factor. It should hold a diverse, complex and network form of organisation together and provide its people with a sense of common purpose. Yet while a vision can inspire, it can also result in disillusionment and distrust if it is incomplete or incapable of achievement, and there is a gap between aspiration and attainment.

So what do the winners do differently in relation to visioning? To answer these questions a research programme led by the author has examined the corporate experience of over 2,000 companies. The results are summarized in: ‘Transforming the Company, Manage Change, Compete and Win’*.

The corporate visions of losers are often little more than words on paper. Most are instantly forgettable. A bland statement produced during an off-site ‘planning day’ is printed on a card and distributed to staff. Although it may make occasional appearances in corporate brochures it is rarely referred to. Whatever ‘visioning exercise’ was undertaken is viewed as a one-off event. The outputs may linger on in unchanged form long after they have ceased to reflect what is possible, current or desirable.

Loser companies often lack a distinctive or compelling reason for existing. They are one of a kind or breed. They are not noticeably special or unique. People find it difficult to justify why they should join it, work with it, use its services or invest in it. Perhaps the initial underlying business concept lacked originality. Maybe it simply mirrored what competitors were already doing.

The wider world tends not to care when losers falter. External parties may have little interest in keeping such an enterprise alive. The corporate herd continues as individual stragglers fall by the wayside. Even failure may go largely unnoticed. While employees lose their jobs customers may be able to obtain very similar products and services from other suppliers.

Many of the key players within loser companies are uncertain and insecure. They lack self-confidence and have little self-esteem. Other people have little interest or faith in them. They themselves are not really sure what they are about. In difficult circumstances they may not have sufficient inner conviction or do enough to keep the enterprise alive. They throw in the towel and are relieved when shot of onerous responsibilities.

Losers can appear dull, resigned and subdued. They drift. They seem to lack drive, personality, heart and soul. Senior managers in corporate losers become preoccupied with ‘fitting in’, ‘hanging onto customers’, ‘papering over cracks’ and surviving. After a time they lose sight of corporate objectives and lose touch with past dreams and their inner selves.

In contrast, winners are confident, vibrant and driven. They fizz and are clear about what they are seeking to achieve. They are much more likely to have articulated a unique rationale. They endeavour to root their visions in real customer requirements. When it is described, people react. They usually understand it and they appreciate what is special about it.

Managers in winning companies feel important and wanted. They ensure that employees and business partners know what they have to do to bring a vision about. The vision lives and motivates because while it may be challenging it is also regarded as relevant and exciting. People are proud to be associated with it.

Winners stand out. They strive to be different. From the moment she first arrived in New York Madonna endeavoured to meet the people who mattered. She