Showing posts with label vision. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vision. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 8

Whatever Your Vision, It's Probably Right.

If there is one common thread being spun in the first few weeks of 2014, we can sum it up to stories about vision. Everybody wants it. Few people have it. Nobody really knows what it means.

Let's start there. Inc. ties it to jotting down 3-, 5-, and 10-year goals. Harvard Business Review says it is all about a core ideology and a "big, hairy, audacious" goal. Fast Company calls it a future state. It's a fair summation from those articles at least. All three magazines have published dozens of ideas.

I don't really see visions like that anymore. I've come to see it as an achievable state of being without a definitive conclusion, not just for organizations and nations but also for individuals. It's conceptual and complete, non-comparative and never confined by time (even if we need time to move toward it).

Do you know who was great visionary? Gene Roddenberry. 

He didn't settle on an individual, organization, or nation. He peered into the future to find an ideal outcome for humankind. He envisioned a future for his fiction that centered squarely on hope, achievement, and understanding so humankind could reach for, explore, and master the stars.

The vision was so comprehensive that it has an "optimism effect" on its viewers. It's a phenomenon that isn't confined to fiction either. It's the same kind of optimism that keeps the hope for a Maslow Window alive. It's also why I'm supportive of any space program, public or private. The nation that sparks the next international space race and wins will likely dictate the ideology of our future.

Regardless, the point is made. People feel good when they think about Star Trek, doubly so when they start counting up how many of those innovations came true — everything from cell phones to tractor beams. Some of these technologies might not be mainstream, but iPhone isn't even a decade old.

The optimism effect can radiate from people too, vision pending. 

This is the reason successful people are successful. They always seem to find a way and other people gravitate toward them. Even if something doesn't work out, they quickly find something else to engage in.

It comes from their ability to objectively assess where they are and then move toward a better state of being in every aspect of their life, not just a goal or a singular objective. They consider the entire life — career, finance, health, family/friends, romance/intimacy, personal growth/education/spiritual, fun/recreation, and physical environment/home/community.

Don't get me wrong. I don't subscribe to the notion that all of these need to be balanced all the time. They don't. As long as someone makes progress in each area of their life, other areas can receive more attention. It isn't until someone starts to make long-term concessions or sacrifices (or short-term cheats) that things will start to break down and even whatever dominated their life is compromised.

The same holds true for organizations. They have to consider their mission, values, and culture just as much as market share, revenue, or stock price. All too often, organizations forget themselves and set singular objectives ahead of their vision like increasing a profit margin or cutting a budget.

But what happens over the long run? Much like marketers have found deep discounts can increase conversion rates but cheapen a brand, companies can lose everything by chasing one thing. Case in point, frozen foods have suffered from a sales slump that they hope marketing can fix.

The truth is that once premium frozen food brands like Marie Callender's frozen dinners aren't as good as they used to be. ConAgra thinks it's a perception issue, but it's a quality control issue. The meals they made ten years ago are not the meals they make today. The meals they make today aren't even as good as the ones they made last year. The sales decline matches recipe cutbacks, not consumer moods.

Think of a few companies that have been shuttered. Borders shrugged off an earlier vision to embrace merchandising and so chose a mission to change people (outside of its control) instead of seeing its place within that environment (inside its control). Circuit City adopted a vision that saw its team working together but never really outlined what they were working toward. Blockbuster had a mission and vision that defended its value proposition even when it no longer had value.

Barnes & Noble has an odd mission/vision too. One wonders how long it can compete without recognizing the critical need to better integrate the physical-online-mobile landscape (among other things). I can see a vision for them, but wonder if it will see it before it is missed as a company.

Whatever your vision, it's probably right. 

If you really want to develop a successful vision for the new year, start with assessing where you are and then dream up some ideal outcomes. Develop your vision from there by shifting away from the outcomes and more toward the qualities that epitomize them because it's the verb that gets you there and not the noun.

Once you have it down, it all becomes a matter of making personal progress. Organizations and nations aren't much different either. As long as the people who make it up can agree or believe in the vision enough to take action toward it, it will be infinitely more likely to realize than if it never had one.

Wednesday, September 18

A Leadership Lesson From A Place Few Experts Tread

Last August, U.S. President Barack Obama compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to a tiresome schoolboy. But less than 30 days after he made the offhanded comment, it was President Putin who would school President Obama in foreign affairs. Russia is celebrating a diplomatic victory this week.

Somehow, President Obama and his administration allowed the Syria crisis to get away from them. Instead of the United States leading a coalition of countries to bring Syria to justice for using chemical weapons, Russia is being celebrated for stopping the escalation of aggression in the Middle East at the hands of unexceptional Americans. Syria will also surrender its chemical weapons, or so they say, and the world will be a better place.

The turnabout of this narrative was about as masterful as any propaganda since the end of the Cold War. One might even praise the audacity of the move, if not for the considerable consequences.

How recent events have changed the geo-political landscape for now.

Russia temporarily gains world prestige and more influence in the Middle East while protecting its Syrian allies, a country run by a leader who used chemical weapons against their own people. Syria also works lockstep with Iran, smuggling arms to the Hisbollah in Lebanon. And Iran has said all along that the U. S. was behind the uprising, a charge that may not have been initially accurate but has become accurate in the last two years. The arms sent into the conflict are limited, with the U.S. fearing these weapons could all too easily be turned on us as suppliers because some rebels are tied to the same terrorists the U.S. has fought for years. To say Syria is a mess is an understatement.

But most Americans don't even know that the U.S. has already picked a side. It wants to topple the government in Syria, but obviously less than Russia wants to keep Bashar al-Assad.

Those seem to be some of the facts (but not nearly all of them). Just don't mistake them as a call for action or involvement on my part. To me, Syria is another cumulation of events that convinces Americans to choose between two bad choices — act as the global police even when the world doesn't want you to while supporting rebels that may (or may not) include your enemies or do nothing, which is de facto support for a dictator who has long despised you and is happy to operate against your interests.

This is why so many advisors frame U.S. foreign policy in Syria up as a choice between which we like better: the enemy you know or the enemy you do not. It would take a fool to hazard a guess.

Lesson learned: Leadership does not talk big with a little stick. 

Many people seemed enamored by Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy that is often summed up from his quip to "speak softy and carry a big stick." And yet, few seem to realize that this is akin to negotiating peacefully while simultaneously threatening people with a "big stick." It was coined at a time when the division between American isolationists and internationalists had boiled over, again.

This division is one of the more interesting ones in politics because it does not follow party lines. Although current public perception is that the Republicans are hawks and Democrats are doves, it's not really true. On the contrary, it was progressives who led the country into conflict and war more often than their counterparts who prefer to live and let live. Americans only think the opposite because neoconservatives joined progressives as being internationalists.

Sometimes this internationalist concept works. Sometimes it does not. And this time, it obviously has not worked for President Obama, partly because of his own words and actions for the better part of seven years. He has campaigned under the auspices of being against what the world saw as American imperialism, but has secretly and stealthily supported various programs that reinforce the idea anyway.

The primary difference between this administration and last mostly has to do with the size of the talk and the size of the stick. Bush favored speaking big and carrying a big stick. Obama favors speaking big and carrying a little stick. And, unfortunately, this has made Americans largely unsupportive of any action abroad while making their detractors much more emboldened to push new agendas.

Who cares? Well, that is a subject open for debate. There are those who believe the U.S. can exist without being a major player in the world and there are those who believe we have to lead the world. The thinnest majority of Republicans and Democrats believe we ought to lead because history has proven that trouble will knock on the door of the U.S. whether it goes looking or not.

Foreign policy isn't what this post is about. It's about leadership. 

There are plenty of people who have long criticized the foreign policy of the Obama administration, among other things. The reason it invites criticism is because it lacks coherency, primarily because the original vision that he brought to the presidency runs counter to the way the world works.

President Obama told the American people that retracting the reach of the United States while simultaneously making nice-nice with the world would place us in a potion where our diplomatic prowess alone could influence world affairs. It's not really true, but that was the vision he forwarded to the American people and the world (despite trying to keep a finger on specific interests anyway).

There are dozens of places where that was never going to work. Syria is one of them. Instead, it is one of those places where you have to make the decision, announce the decision, and act on the decision.

The Obama administration didn't do that, mostly, because too much could go wrong. They also didn't want to be responsible if it did. So, in effect, they pushed it off for a few years and then attempted to assemble a middle-of-the-road approach that wouldn't make it look like Obama was rolling back on his posture to be a polite player in the world. When that didn't work, he punted to Congress for a vote while simultaneously withholding any accountability to that vote in case it didn't go his way.

On the domestic front, it all comes across as being considerate, depending largely on how well you like his administration. All the while, everyone forgot that the U.S doesn't exist in a vacuum. Other world leaders saw the vote-and-pony show as indecisiveness at best and weakness at worst. And no matter how you see it, other countries have since seized on the moment.

Contrast this with what Prime Minister David Cameron did. He said the United Kingdom ought to become involved and he made a very strong case to Parliament. When Parliament voted against intervention, he stated it was a mistake but would accept the will of the people. It was a done deal and he didn't look too passive, too pompous or too weak after the outcome.

What's the difference? The difference is that Cameron understands being a leader as opposed to being an expert politician. In this case, a leader transcends their appearance of authority in order to ensure any following is aligned to the organizational goals and not themselves as individuals.

Experts, on the other hand, tend to be different all together. They derive their appearance of authority from their reputation and are not willing to risk it by accepting responsibility. In this case (and possibly many others), President Obama is playing expert in Syria (without the right expertise, perhaps).

The expert fallacy can cost an organization its clarity. 

Right now, almost everyone in the U.S. is looking for experts to solve problems when what we really need are leaders. We see it in politics. We see it in business. But based on the number of people who have added "expert" to their labels (deserved or not), it's safe to say that we have a glut of those instead.

What's the difference? Leaders are those people who figure things out. They are people who have a vision, sometimes asking experts for their opinions on how to make that vision real, and then approve those opinions based on what he or she believes is most likely to make that vision real.

If they'e right, history remembers them with reverence. If they are wrong, not so much. The risk is part of the job. Leaders are held accountable. In government, they don't pin blame elsewhere. In business, they don't need golden parachutes. These are the people who make their own way.

Leaders don't cling to and attempt to manipulate the world they know; they look to shape the world into something no one had ever considered before. (Ergo, a push button phone design expert can't see a flat screen phone as being functional.) And this is why they continually find solutions that experts could never fathom. It's one thing to be studied in what is, and another thing to see what could be.

When it comes to world affairs, history has shown it that the world will praise whomever is steadfast in their vision and conviction to see it through, despite being wrong on some points. So how about you?

Are you are a leader or follower? Do you know your field or are you ready to re-imagine it? Or maybe you want to talk about something else? One of my friends has already suggested we abandon Syria and start focusing on some of the problems we have right here in this country, like homeless workers. What do you think ... about anything?

Monday, February 6

Working With Vision: How The Future Shapes Today

There is an old adage I learned two decades ago. There are no boring stories, only boring writers.

Sometimes executives and communication professionals tell me it isn't true. There are plenty of boring companies and not everyone needs a vision. Statistics seem to bear their argument out. As many as one-third of Fortune 500 companies do not have a vision statement. And, for those that do, only 22 percent have transformational vision statements, which strive to change the world (or the segment in which they operate).

However, most of those who cite that figure neglect the historical truth. One-third of Fortune 500 companies in 1970 ceased to exist by 1983 and more than two-thirds were gone by 1995. No company is too big to fail. And those that do fail never have a substantive or transformative vision.

Corning Incorporated Sees Its Vision. 

Corning Incorporated is a glass and ceramics company. When people hear the name, most remember it for its CorningWare and Corelle tableware brands even though the company divested those assets in 1998. (The original company, Bay State Glass Co. in 1851, wasn't focused on tableware either.)

Its vision statement has deep meaning for those who know what it means, but tends to feel flat otherwise. A portion of it reads like this: We remain steadfast in our commitment to leverage the key strands of our Diversity DNA: operate with a Global Mindset, support a Culture of Collaboration, foster a Passion for Learning, encourage Employee Development and Value The Individual.

But neither that line, nor the broader statement, really conveys what Corning is. If you really want to understand who Corning is, watch this video clip. It runs almost six minutes; every second counts.

Everything about A Day Made of Glass 2 presents a crystal clear transformative vision that changes the way you think about the company and what the future might look like. It's hardly boring; it's inspired.

In fact, it inspires in every segment of its audience: consumers, developers, partners, employees, and investors. It not only changes the way people see the world, but it also changes the way we see Corning in it.

Change The Way People See The World.

When I first watched the video on the day it was posted, only a few hundred people had found it. Two days later, it captured 180,000 views. In the days that follow,  some communicators will call it a viral success.

I do not. Going viral isn't the real story. The real story is how a company not only found its transformative vision, but also the perfect way to communicate it. The outcome is as big as the vision.

It is difficult to watch this video without thinking about Corning Incorporated differently. It's difficult to watch this video without thinking about the world differently. This future is today, if we want it to be.

Wednesday, March 30

Checking Vision: A Starbucks Lesson For Small Business

Someone asked a good question last week. Fredrick Nijm, co-founder and CEO of Addoway, mentioned that many companies, especially startups, sometimes see too many changes to adhere to a vision statement.

He's right to some extent. But before discussing why he is right, consider what Howard Schultz, president and CEO of Starbucks, discussed this week with NPR. As soon as he returned in 2008, he closed about 7,000 stores for several hours to retrain Starbucks employees.

Why? In Schultz's opinion, growth had given way to small changes that was driving Starbucks away from its vision. One example cited in the article related to how the company steamed milk. Size and scope had prompted stores to re-steam milk, which is more profitable and produced a higher yield. But it's also one off from the mission and vision of the company in terms of meeting its commitment to excellence.

"To establish Starbucks as the most recognized and respected brand in the world and become a national company with values and guiding principles that employees could be proud of.“ — Starbucks vision statement, 2008

StarbucksThe vision was not perfect, given the first part is not necessarily achievable and the second is, arguably, already achieved. But incidentally, the company has been working toward developing a new vision. In the interim, it has mostly been operating on a mission to "inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time."

What is interesting is that the mission has little resemblance to the one employed by Starbucks four years ago — "Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow." Both, I might note, weave in elements of the vision. And, you have to consider the various principles and values the company has adopted to appreciate the full scope of what Starbucks is trying to do.

This change no doubt plays into the logo change earlier this year. While the company received its fair share of criticism over the matter, the change of the mark wasn't made on a design whim. It was made because the company had already been changing its mission and vision in ways that included coffee but went well beyond the primary product.

How Do Startups Keep Pace With Change And Maintain A Vision?

To Nijm's point, vision statements are less about corralling a company and more about providing a bellwether (along with a mission and values) that the company can measure ideas against. Ergo, while reheating milk makes the company more profitable and speeds the process, it also fails in the face of the company's mission and vision.

Although Starbucks is a big company, this case study fits well within the biggest challenge small companies and startups face on a near daily basis. I'm working with one company right now (not even launched), which in staying true to its preliminary vision, decided to make manufacturing a core component of its operation as opposed to contracting the manufacturing and branding the product.

ExamIn the short term, contracting out the manufacturing seemed like a good idea because it would reduce startup costs. However, in retrospect, the owner decided contracting out would compromise the quality. He is right. After all, many people know that the McDonald's of 30 years ago is not the McDonald's of today, which also required a vision change to keep pace with growth.

It was a defining moment for that company, for instance, to decide that growth and profitability was more important than purchasing a specific quality of beef. And therein lies how a well-defined mission, vision, and values are a bellwether.

Growth. Companies need to revisit their mission, vision, and values during growth spikes that clearly cause them to move away from their foundation. (When growth or profitability take precedence, a company like McDonald's may de-emphasize quality. And lately, the company is being forced toward health consciousness.)

Acquisition. When companies purchase other companies, they need to determine whether the acquisition can adjust to the parent company or if the subsidiary can reasonably act autonomously with its existing mission. (This has been the Achilles of Yahoo since its beginning, buying up companies that were poor matches and attempting to make them yield.)

Shift. When companies take on new niche products or services, sometimes those products or services slowly begin to dominate the initial scope of a company. (For example, I recently worked on an account to rebrand a mold remediation company that grew into an environmental demolition and construction company.)

Era. Not all products and services are timeless, especially in the medical and technology industries. Consider all the industries that are struggling — print publications, auto manufacturers, etc. — and you'll recognize what happens when companies begin to believe they publish newspapers instead of journalism or work in autos as opposed to transportation. Or perhaps the better example is how the March of Dimes transitioned from ending polio to benefiting premature babies.

Exploratory. Small business owners and startups are often given opportunities well outside their scope of service or expertise. The existing vision can easily help them decide whether or not the opportunity is worth changing their direction. Or, they may operate in a temporary exploratory mindset, provided they understand that they will have to adopt some permanence.

Weakness. Or, as mentioned in the original article, companies might consider their vision when it's already failing for one reason or another. Perhaps it is because they hired people who never embraced the original vision or perhaps it is incredibly weak and not transformative. Either way, companies without an adopted vision tend to have various departments and individual people who could be working against each other or in different directions (whether they know it or not).

The short answer for small companies and startups on when they might change their mission, vision, and values is at a major event. However, the better answer is to weigh every operation and decision against the vision to begin with. If those decision makers did that, chances are that there would be fewer sweeping changes as they developed.

But then again, that may even be the difference between a company vs. an enterprise or an organization vs. an initiative. While both usually have some direction, one doesn't necessarily have any end in sight, which is probably why most enterprises and initiatives eventually end.

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