If I were to ask you what’s the one initiative you can carry out—today—to quintuple your revenue, what would you say? Would you jump onto the latest social media platform and start “engaging”? Develop and launch a new and innovative product? Hire more salespeople and install a CRM system?
What if I told you it was as simple as developing a vision for your branded business? That’s what the results of a Harvard study called Using Vision to Shape the Future concluded, and it’s something any company can do, no matter how big or small, with their existing team.
The study, conducted by John Kotter and Jim Heskett, reviewed 207 companies worldwide in 22 industries over 11 years. It found that companies with vision-led cultures not only increased their revenue by 400% more than those that didn’t have a vision-led culture, but also experienced a nearly 800% greater improvement in net income than those that didn’t have a vision-led culture over that time.
Not a bad result from an exercise that some senior executives would dismiss as “warm and fuzzy.”
In many cases, those executives would have a point. The process of creating a vision—which we define as “transcending day-to-day operations to raise and inspire a challenge of what you are to what you want to become”—can be undisciplined and vague. It often results in a nice motto that hangs on the wall but has no influence on strategy, organizational structure or culture. Take these (please!) as examples of poor visions:
- Be the global leader in customer value (Caterpillar)
- To build Total Brand Value by innovating to deliver consumer value and customer leadership faster, better and more completely than our competition (Gillette)
- We are committed to achieving new standards of excellence by providing superior human capital management services and maximizing the potential of all stakeholders—clients, candidates and employees—through the delivery of the most reliable, responsive, flexible and cost-effective services possible (CBA Industries)
The above are great examples of visions that your competition would love you to have, because they do more harm than good.
But what if your company’s vision were instead one of these?:
- Offer the most complete and uniquely rewarding motorcycle experience (Harley-Davidson)
- Make our stores our customers’ second homes (Second Cup)
- Crush Adidas (Nike in the 1960s)
- Democratize the automobile (Ford in the early 1900s)
- Put “a computer on every desk in every home” (Microsoft)
Visions like these are completely different and can act as a source of competitive advantage that can drive company-wide outperformance and bottom-line results.
So how can you develop a vision for your branded business that drives competitive advantage instead of eroding it?
At LEVEL5, we use a set of criteria that guides us in creating strong visions. Every vision we help create must be:
- Inspiring and motivating: If it doesn’t move your stakeholders—including employees, corporate partners and even clients—it’s already dead in the water. No one wants to work for a company that wants “to be the global leader in customer value.” What does that even mean? But they would want to work for a company that wants “to democratize the automobile” Now that’s inspiring and motivating.
- Clear and meaningful: Again, without this, your vision is lost. What does the average person think building “total brand value” means, and how is that meaningful to them? Compare that to “Crush Adidas.” Everyone knows what that means.
- Focused: One of the purposes of having a vision in the first place is to focus every employee on the ideal end goal. If this goal is “to offer the most complete and uniquely rewarding motorcycle experience,” that aligns every stakeholder to the same goal, creating a focused effort that drives competitive advantage.
- Leader-led: If the leaders of your company don’t buy into the vision and use it to develop company strategy and direct behaviour throughout the company, the main benefit of having a vision is lost. Leaders at Microsoft, for example, embrace their vision of putting “a computer on every desk in every home.” That’s because this vision helps them decide how to allocate resources, prioritize initiatives and make decisions overall that are effective, efficient and drive the largest ROI for their branded business.
- Measurable¦really: As the famous adage says, if it’s not measured it’s not managed. When used properly, your vision is an implied accountability to every employee about how they need to contribute to reaching that vision. “To be a global leader in customer value” is too vague to be measured, and thus employees can’t be managed towards it. “Put a computer on every desk in every home” can easily be measured, so the company can be managed to achieve it.
With these criteria in mind, you can create a vision for your company that, like the Harleys, Microsofts and Nikes of the world, will help you drive bottom-line results.
But let’s keep it a secret between us—you don’t want your competition to know about it.
David Kincaid has been a leader of branded businesses for 35 years and is now managing partner and CEO of LEVEL5 Strategy Group, a Toronto-based firm dedicated to driving profitable growth for its clients through the power of their brand. LEVEL5 was on the 2010 and 2011 PROFIT 200 rankings of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.
More columns by David Kincaid