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Navigating to Success

November 25, 2009

In the simplest of navigation systems, the pilot picks a point on the horizon and heads for it. The pilot communicates the destination, “that point on the horizon”, to the crew and they set about doing their jobs.

Putting all the formalities of business planning aside, navigating a business is not all that much different than picking “that point on the horizon”. The boss has a vision, “that point on the horizon” where he is heading. Unfortunately, if he hasn’t fully shared that vision with the rest of the crew, they will be of limited help on the journey.

When we talk about a “vision for the business”, we’re not talking about some abstract, esoteric concept. We’re talking about a real “point on the horizon”. The more people that we have on board that know where we’re heading, that understand why we’re heading there, and that recognize what they can do to help us get there, the better our chances are of successfully making the journey.

It’s important for employees in businesses of all sizes to have a clear and unified vision of at least four important dimensions: the customers, the employees, the markets, and the products or services. The vision will originate at the top but must be understandable and translatable into action at all levels within the organization.

That vision should be resident in concrete statements, renewable at least annually, that define those “points on the horizon” in such a way that each person in the organization can translate the vision into specific actions that further the the realization of that vision, day by day, week by week.

A vision is not an absolute, but its not totally abstract either. It must be well defined enough to to focus energy and effort on objectives, but flexible enough to permit individual initiative within accepted guidelines.

For example, when it comes to customers, every business talks about providing quality. To be meaningful, a vision about the customer and quality must go beyond mere platitudes. That “point on the horizon” that represents quality must defined in more specific, measurable terms.

“Customer complaints will not exceed .5% of orders.” That’s a point on the horizon, but it can still be further developed to be useful in every day activities. When and if we get complaints we’ll do something about them; we won’t be satisfied that the results are within limits.

“Every customer complaint is important, we’ll communicate them so everyone knows what happened, we’ll discuss them at management meetings, address them, correct them, and take action to prevent the same problem from reoccurring in the future.” Now that’s a “point on the horizon” that people can start to pay attention to and do something about.

All businesses, both large and small, are organizations that consist of groups of people. The success of a business, the realization of its vision, will only be accomplished through the efforts of the people in the organization.

Do your employees understand your vision? If business leaders truly shared their vision of their business with their employees, we wouldn’t have a majority of Americans believing that the typical bottom line profit for a business is 20%, 30%, even 40% of sales.

The consequences of key people not sharing, or understanding a common vision will always be an impediment to progress, and in some cases, it can be catastrophic. Success only occurs when the people know what the vision is, understand it, and are able to work with it on a daily basis. Sharing the vision is the means to navigating to your final destination.

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