Growth & Customers

Why your small business needs a “shared vision”

Why should your small business go to the trouble of developing an explicit declaration of its values and principles; vision and goals; and mission and purpose? After all, it’s a challenging, time-consuming process: You have to facilitate an open dialog with your staff (preferably, every employee); address some tough questions about your company as it is and how you wish it to be; and then—most important of all—actually apply the values, vision, and mission you’ve so laboriously crafted.

I’ve helped more than 100 organizations develop a shared vision (which is the umbrella term I’ll use for values, vision, and mission); I can categorically say that the effort is worth it—but only if the organization is willing and committed to applying its shared vision to everyday operations and strategic decision making.

But there’s good news! Small businesses have a distinct advantage over their larger competitors when it comes to developing and applying a shared vision. Small businesses have fewer employees, which makes it easier to get the input you need. Small businesses can also apply their shared vision more effectively because they’re, well, smaller and less complex than big businesses.

There’s another advantage small businesses have that ties to shared vision. Chances are, as a small business, your competitive advantage is based on doing things differently than your competitors; we might go so far as to say you’re out to destroy the status quo. Yet without a shared vision, it’s just too easy (even for a small business) to revert to the preservation of the status quo.

Instead of pressing their advantage by doing things differently, small businesses often find themselves with a defensive focus. “Don’t screw it up” becomes the unspoken but powerful mandate. As a result, businesses can drift toward an excessive focus on maintaining the status quo. In many cases, that means an outsized emphasis on preserving sales levels, market share, and renewals—all very worthy objectives but, in the absence of a shared vision, often inadequate to ensuring a small business’s ongoing viability and vigor.

So, how does a small business go about creating its own shared vision, and how can that shared vision then be applied to good effect? We’ll answer those questions in an upcoming webcast I’ll be hosting called, naturally, “Creating Shared Vision in a Small Firm” In the interest of full disclosure, I should emphasize that the webcast will focus mostly on the concept of shared vision in a small business; we’ll cover the nuts and bolts of how to apply the shared vision, but implementation is a bigger topic than we could cover in this webinar (I will, however, recommend resources to help with effective deployment of a shared vision).

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In discussing the concept of shared vision in the webcast, however, concept and implementation will often intersect. A great example of this is how I’ll begin the webcast: with a discussion of how most organizations approach operational questions versus how they should be answering those questions.

One of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned about business is based on the work of Peter Block, who proposed that when dealing with questions of operations and even strategies, businesses rely too often on “how” questions, such as:

• How do you do it?
• How long will it take?
• How much does it cost?
• How do you get those people to change?
• How do you measure it?
• How have other people done it successfully?

“How” questions like the ones above aren’t wrong, but they’re often asked too early in the decision-making process. There’s an inherent judgment underlying each question that too often derails the kind of creative, innovative decision making that can help small businesses optimize their advantages.

In the webcast, I’ll discuss the question small businesses should answer before they get to the “how” questions: What do we want to create? Having a shared vision is crucial to answering that question. A shared vision helps an organization answer the “how” questions without contradicting the principles and values that every organization lives by, whether the organization knows it’s living by them or not (i.e., every organization has principles in place: the question is whether those principles are explicit or understood, and whether those principles reflect what leadership and employees actually wish for the organization to embody).