Vision for Business - By Patrick Finan, Block Club

(Originally published in Buffalo Spree Magazine)

Let's say I asked you to take a vacation with me, assuming we knew each other first. The first question you'd ask would be, "Where are we going?"

Let's shift from the beach to the office. You're looking to hire me as a new employee. Now I want to know where your business is going.

So many of us start businesses because we see an opportunity to make something better, to quit our 9 to 5, to pursue a dream. But what happens after we jump in? While there's plenty to do day-to-day, we need to take the time to look beyond today and tomorrow and build a strong and thriving business. We need to take control of the clock, as much as possible, and move ourselves forward, instead of having time move us.

This is where visioning comes in—and it's exactly what it sounds like. It's a process to build a vision of what your company looks like at a certain point in the future. I know this sounds simplistic, but it's really powerful stuff.

Many companies think they know where they're going but often times these ideas aren't developed, shared or communicated between partners or within the organization. To put this in perspective, I once was asked to sit in a partners meeting for a local law firm that was struggling with growth. When I asked if the firm had a shared vision for the organization, one of the partners replied, "To make as much money as possible for all of the people in this room." And there couldn't have been a worse response.

His response was rather self-serving and shortsighted, it certainly didn't align with the firm's mission and values, and it would have alienated the clients, employees and communities that they're supposed to be serving.

I first learned about visioning from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan a few years ago and have been using it at my company ever since. Zingerman's co-founder Ari Weinzerg lists 10 reasons why every business needs a vision statement:

1. It has a positive impact on others.
2. It attracts good people.
3. It allows us to create reality instead of just reacting to problems.
4. It's a statement of optimism in the future.
5. It forces us to act on and model the reality that there is no safe path.
6. It forces us to hold ourselves accountable.
7. It tells us what we aren't going to do.
8. It tells everyone what's in it for them.
9. It creates positive movement within the organization.
10. It helps keep good people.

He adds that you need to follow four principles when committing to the visioning process:

  1. It has to be inspiring because good people want to be a part of a great organization.
  2. It has to be strategically sound and achievable, although perhaps slightly a stretch, so you can get "there."
  3. It has to be documented so you can hold yourself accountable and you have something to stick to. 
  4. It has to be communicated, sold, and talked about so everyone involved knows what's in it for them.

If you're convinced of the need for vision for your organization, you've got to get started today. Rip off the Band-Aid because the process doesn't get any easier by waiting a week, a month or a year. Besides, the processes can be a lot of fun!

Start with your topic. Is this for your overall organization or just a particular part? Then pick your time frame. For a small to medium size organization's vision, I prefer working on a vision statement that's five years out. Small companies can move quicker than large organizations, so pick a time frame that works for you. Lastly, consider all of the accomplishments that you'll be proud of in the future so you can work those in, too.

Now you're ready to write your first draft. Just go for it! You can do this as a team or as an individual. Review and revise and repeat until you're happy with your vision. Share this with advisors, mentors and people you trust to get their opinion. When it's finished, start sharing the vision within your organization. Remember, you have to sell this to your team. You're building alignment within your organization; you want to make positive impact on others; and you're keeping good employees and attracting good people to your team. Don't leave anyone out of the loop! And don't get bogged down by corporate mumbo-jumbo! This isn't your mission; this isn't your strategic plan; this isn't a business plan or any employee handbook. It's a vote of confidence in the future for the great organization you're working to build.

Patrick Finan is the co-founder and CEO of City Dining Cards, a customer loyalty marketing company, and the co-founder and principal of Block Club, a branding and strategy agency.  

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