The Vision Thing
Bob Shortsight and Ted Longview were a couple of service contractors. After they attended one of Frank Blau's "Business of Contracting" seminars, their heads were swimming with information. The key concept they learned was that "the going rate" has very little to do with their selling price if they're going to survive in the business world. This revelation led both contractors to completely rethink their businesses.
Wasting no time, Bob and Ted began implementing their newfound insights almost overnight. Change seldom comes without consequences, and both contractors had their share. Each experienced the rebellion of a crew who didn't want to change and each had to give up a few customers who weren't willing to let them earn a profit.
Their similarities weren't so evident five years later. Bob sold his business to a consolidator for a tidy sum, while Ted continued to operate his shop with no thought of selling in the foreseeable future.
Before applauding Bob, let's take a look at his business. Right after that revealing seminar Bob began preaching sales and profits. Besides raising prices, he started demanding more add-ons and upgrades. His plumbers didn't like the idea of being "salesmen." The ones that stayed with him did so only because he was paying them far more than the local average.
When he tried to implement higher standards, such as being on time in clean uniforms, his top performers would rebel. They could get away with breaking the rules because Bob needed their sales. This meant the rest of the crew could take a free ride as well. Because of lax discipline, customer service was poor to nonexistent. Every week he found himself signing refund checks for irate customers.
Bob's shop, though profitable, was like an adult day-care facility. It's little wonder he jumped at the chance to sell out and get away from it.
Different VisionsTed also had a bumpy start as he reinvented his business. Within a month, he'd fired all three of his plumbers, finding himself back in a truck for the first time in years. It took a couple of months to hire his first replacement and another month to hire a second. Interestingly, he found that sales for these two matched that of the three he fired. Customers were happy and profits were up, yet he still had time for his family and community.
Unlike Bob, Ted "cleaned house," but that's not why Ted's shop began to flourish. The difference between Bob and Ted is one that we all have control over, if we'd just recognize it. The difference was Ted's vision.
Bob envisioned wealth and little else. He experienced long hours, hard work and lots of grief. At least he achieved his goal without it killing him.
Ted had a vision for a company with a great reputation. To fulfill his vision, Ted had to invest hard work, long hours and grief, just like Bob. As his vision unfolded, he began to see the payoff in fewer headaches and more satisfaction, earning a healthy bottom line at the same time.
The vision you have is important to your success. Let's look at Bob's vision of wealth. There's nothing wrong with being wealthy. In fact, I wish contractors were the envy of the country club set. Wealth, however, isn't enough for a worthwhile vision.
Flaws In The VisionOne problem with Bob's vision was that it couldn't be shared. At the end of the game, Bob was going to be the only winner. Certainly it was his risk and effort that led to selling the business for a tidy amount, but other than a paycheck, Bob's people had little reason to invest themselves into his vision.
The only people who would stick with him were people with a similar vision. All they cared about was their bottom line. That meant that their work was merely a means to an end -- nothing more than a job. The company and its customers were little more than raw material that had to be processed.
For Bob, keeping his business moving in the right direction was exactly like the cartoon of the guy trying to push a boulder uphill. He could never let up. If he ever quit pushing, all the progress he made would come crashing back down on him. Selling out was more of a relief than a reward.
Ted's vision developed its own forward momentum. He defined a great company in terms of having a good reputation and offering true value to his customers, as well as his employees. For him, earning a respectable profit was not the goal, it was simply a necessity for fulfilling his vision.
He cleaned house because he was not going to let someone on his payroll rob him of his vision. Once he started hiring people who desired to be part of something great, he was able to focus on achieving the vision instead of coddling employees. For him, turning the business over to a successor with the same vision would be his crowning success.
Whose Vision Is It?As the owner of the business, you establish the vision. If you settle for vision by default, you're setting the stage for a constant battle, if not failure. Without vision, every person you hire will bring his own vision, resulting in your people being pulled in all directions. If you hire true to your vision, you'll find it easier to build a team that will pull in the same direction.
Before your people can buy into your vision, you must communicate it to them. A rule to remember is, "If it isn't written, it isn't real." The flip side is, "If it's real, write it." The next time you see a nicely framed vision or mission statement hanging on an office wall, ask the owner or any employee what's written there. You might have to try this in your own office. If no one really knows what the mission or vision statement is, the plaque on the wall has all the relevance of a dime store decorator print.
Once it's written, it must be supported by written policies and procedures aimed at fulfilling the vision or mission. (I've seen both terms used; they tend to mean the same thing.) Suppose, for example, you define your mission as "Leave every customer satisfied and convinced of the value we provide." What does that translate to in terms of how your service techs handle situations in the field? How they handle complaints? How your dispatchers and CSRs operate?
Your business impacts your profession, your community, your employees and your customers. What will fulfillment of your business mean to your employees? What will your community think of your business when it is operated according to your vision? How will your customers benefit from your vision?
DisciplineIf you don't have the discipline to make decisions based upon your vision, you may as well not have one. A well-conceived vision will provide for a principled approach to all your decisions. It is not too difficult to tell whether a particular decision will uphold or undermine your vision. In cases where it's a close call, decide in favor of the path that best coincides with your vision.
Wise counsel is important, but using consensus to develop a vision will probably result in a toothless compromise. This is not to say that you shouldn't seek contributions from others, including your employees. Just realize that you are the leader and the responsibility for the vision falls squarely upon your shoulders. Don't abdicate this responsibility by trying to appease others. This is your game, not theirs.
I would love to give you the elements I believe should be in a vision but I would be robbing you of the birthing process that makes it yours. If you need a place to start as you formulate your vision, ask yourself why you're in business in the first place. Your initial thought is likely to be closest to your vision.
Another effective exercise is to think about a business or organization that you admire. As you consider what that business does to earn your respect, try to visualize what would lead it to do what it does. You may have to translate it for your business, but that's what you're supposed to do. You are, after all, the leader and visionary for your business.
In closing, I have a homework assignment for you: What is your vision for your company, in 50 words or less? In a future article, I'll deal with some of them. Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.