Elements of Strategy: Vision

As you’ll recall from yesterday, one of my favorite definitions of strategy is that it is “The intersection between vision, core beliefs, and competencies.”

Over the next three days, we’re going to explore each of these areas.  So let’s take a look at what “Vision” really means in the context of your business.


“That vision thing” has received a lot of attention from business leaders and business writers over the past few decades.  Even the most cursory reading of just about any business book will tout the importance of a strong vision.  What’s more impressive, though, is that historically many of the most successful companies lived a very strong vision.

In their fabulous “Built to Last”, Collins and Porras look at some of the greatest companies of the past 100+ years, and do a wonderful job demonstrating that these companies had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish that stretched far beyond a simple profit motive.

The vision for any organization is not just the goals it wants to accomplish.  It’s not just that it wants to be the market leader, or that it wants to be successful, or that it wants to produce the “best” product or services.  It goes deeper than that.  A company’s vision encompasses those things, but more importantly, the vision is about the impact the company wants to have within its community, country, or world.

Take Disney’s vision, for example, which is simply:  “To bring happiness to millions.”

Or Merck’s:  “To preserve and improve human life.”

Or, to stray into a more “industrial” example, let’s look at Hewlett-Packard:  “To make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity.”

These have a lot more to do with accomplishments outside the realm of business.  They’re not talking about profit here, or even what they’re producing.  They’re talking about the effect they want to have on people in the wider world.

I can almost hear somebody in the peanut gallery muttering “Sure, that’s great for multi-billion dollar multinationals.  But how does it apply to my restaurant?”

And to that person, I want to point out that your question is skirting awfully close to “That sounds great, but it won’t work for me because…”  And we’ve already agreed to banish that phrase, right?

Anyway, the answer is that a strong vision has everything to do with your success as a small business owner.  There are two major benefits to having a meaningful and clearly defined vision of what you want your ideal business (and your ideal life) to look like.

  1. It reconnects you with the higher meaning of what you do.  I don’t mean that in any sort of spiritual or religious context, though certainly that might be a part of your business and your life.  The higher meaning I’m talking about here has to do with the impact you have on your clients lives, within your community, and yes, maybe even the world.
  2. A strong and well communicated vision gives both you and your staff an easy test to determine whether or not you’re doing the “right” things.  You can measure any action against whether or not it serves or hinders your vision.

The second benefit is very close to what Stephen Covey talks about in habit 2 of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  That habit (“Begin with the end in mind”) is all about measuring what you’re currently doing with where you want to be, and finding the areas where you’re acting against what you really want.

I can’t tell you what your vision should be – only you can do that.  But take some time to think about what attracted you to your field.  What made you want to open your own business, instead of working for somebody else?  What client success stories do you wish the world knew about?  What pushes you to keep going to work, day after day, instead of selling your business and just stopping?  Answering those questions will help you connect with your vision.