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Creating a Vision Statement

”The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
- Marcel Proust

As an executive coach you are parachuted into different organizations to work with leaders. One of the first questions I ask an organizational leader is what is your vision. Many have to think about that question for a minute before explaining that they do not have one or that they cannot recall it at the moment. Some will share their vision and I will ask if I go interview employees from around the company will they share the same vision with me? Often the response is, “I would like to think so.”

As you dig further into the vision of the organization you arrive at some convoluted, unclear set of words that you would never know if you accomplished them or not. Is your vision statement like that? Will it pass the Everest test? You know, if your vision was Everest and you set out on an expedition to climb it, would you know when you arrived at the top and that you had accomplished it looking back?

creating a vision statement

How to define your vision

Jim Collin’s suggests asking three questions when creating a vision statement (Jim Collin’s Vision Framework):

  1. What can you be the best in the world at?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What drives your economic engine?

These are really helpful questions if you take them to the extreme and I so often do not find CEOs, Executive Directors, or Managing Partners being pushed far enough on becoming clear in their answer to these questions. When we ran our last business, what we needed to be world best in was a perfect call on the phone. That is what we were driven for at first but somewhere along the line it did not mean as much to those of us who had been working in our industry for 18 years. Today, I am in the coaching business and I believe I can become the world’s best at growing people into amazing leaders. The difficult issue for leaders is to answer the questions and care about that answer. Many leaders care more about the hierarchy than the vision and mission that they are there to serve. They run the numbers and it is the numbers that drive them rather than looking at those numbers as a measurement of progress of achieving their vision.

I use a tool I have developed to help companies in creating a vision statement: vision statement worksheet. It asks the leader and their team to determine what is the measurement of their success (Collin’s economic engine). What I have learned in this work is that simply saying your financial measurements as the yardstick in your vision is like pouring water on a fire. Your people do not care about that number. Your company or organization originally was founded on a purpose to change something for someone. It was set up to meet an unfulfilled need. The founder discovered this need and along the way they or some leader who followed realized it could be exploited. And it grew, but then some where along the line the willingness to exploit exceeded the need of the market. Where are you taking your company and why? Are you simply replacing some competitive product that is equally good or are you driving real value in those you produce goods or service for? If you’re not, perhaps you need to reach for a higher vision.

If your company produces safety products for food production perhaps the greater world needs you more than your current market. I am not suggesting leaving the market you’re in but harvesting it for expansions into the world in which the need for what you sell is greater than the market you already serve. Instead of putting another bell or whistle on your product in the local market think about the global market as a way to live more passionately with protecting the world’s food supply. That is something that others can get behind.

“Vision,” Jonathan Swift wrote, “is the art of seeing things invisible.” Many organizations struggle with their vision because they only look to the horizon and not past it. The idea of vision goes back to a term that says we must look past the horizon for something that can only be seen in the minds eye but not really seen by our senses. It speaks to something that can been seen but not by common sight of the eye. The greatest difference between a manager and a great leader may lay in the ability to envision a future and bring others into the state together. To accomplish things bigger than ourselves we must first imagine that place, outcome, or success!

If you are an Olympic athlete and you believe you can be the best skier in the world but you lack the passion for it, you will likely not have the will to do what it takes to make it to the gold. When you are determining what industry or market to serve, and many could use your service, which one will you focus on? Which one do you want to be the world’s best at serving?

Recently, I was working with a company that was debating the issue of diversification of their client base by serving multiple industries verses becoming world best at serving just one market. The first part of the discussion was asking if you could fix the entire industry of their problem, which one would you feel better about solving when you looked back? Before this was part of the consideration, the answer was simply, “we can serve both.” The issue is that if you do not become world best, you are constantly facing competitive pressures to commodities your pricing.


About the Author

Gary Cohen is a highly-skilled Executive Coach, Leadership Author, Trainer, and International Keynote Speaker. His clients range from entrepreneurial CEOs of the nation’s fastest-growing companies to executives of global 100 companies. He differentiates himself from traditional (psycho/therapeutic) executive coaches by bringing a vast amount of business experience as a former Founder / President of one the Nation’s Fastest growing companies. He is the author of Just Ask Leadership: Why Great Managers Always Ask the Right Questions (McGraw Hill). Gary B. Cohen Full Bio

  • Sam Bloomfield

    These are all good and relevant questions. But how do you arrive at answers that are both quantifiable and qualified? That is the secret. We approach this vision and strategy as a build, starting with SLOTS. Then you have to take it to a work-plan that is actionable.

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