Defining A "Vision"
A corporate vision is the design of everything needed for the business to work, combined with the experience to know it can really work that way in the real world. It is about the whole business, not just the product, or sales or marketing - but all strategies.
So a vision is actually a very complex model that can be run in someone's head, which takes into account all the major business disciplines, and thousands of real world practical factors that are only available through experience. I think this is a pretty good working and practical definition of a vision, and there is no doubt that having one can greatly increase your chances of success.
Every business needs a vision, some more complete and complex than others. Certainly a local dry cleaner does not need to spend a lot of time on this, but most businesses that are large, or want to be, do need a complete corporate vision. If you have not read the chapter "The 11 Elements of A Successful Vision" please do this now before continuing, as this is the definition of a vision I will be using here and it is far more complex than most people might think. In my view a vision is really everything about the business, not just the product idea and its market, as many might define it. A vision must include the strategy and tactical levels of the five major disciplines (sales, finance, operations, product development and marketing).
Businesses go through many levels or plateaus as they grow and evolve. During different periods they may sprint or go sideways depending on many inside and outside factors. Either way you need to have a vision to use as the basis for most major decisions, but if you are going sideways your vision is either wrong or incomplete. Of course there can be serious outside factors that are out of your control but this also means that the vision is wrong, by definition and needs adjustment. The diagram below shows the 'S' curve that can be viewed as a company's growth cycle with each inflection the result of many factors including management's vision, personal limits and many outside economic and industry factors. You will need to revisit and tune-up your vision at least annually, but at each of the 'X''s in the diagram below this process needs to be repeated to address both internal and external changes. The changes may be macro level, or even micro level changes that can be amplified over time to cause major problems.
The graph above can represent revenue, rate of growth or many other measures of success that are monitored by your company. Evolution and updates to the vision should happen at least annually, more than that means the vision is not well formed and may need a total reset with additional work and experience involved. New information comes in every day and a vision is a "living document" which will undergo many small changes as this happens, but if you find yourself changing course in a big way daily, weekly or monthly your vision is not complete or needs more work. You may want to bring in an expert to help who is objective and can help stabilize the vision.
Additional when you are not achieving key goals and metrics for the business some analysis must be done on why. A quick SWOT analysis may help identify problems or opportunities, as will a look at competitors and their market share direction. If these do no reveal why you can not achieve reasonable goals of growth then a complete assessment of the vision is in order. More often than not some part of that vision is not clicking and it is probably obvious in what area, sales being the most common and visible, of course, but this may not be the root cause. Product development, market positioning and other strategic level factors are probably involved too. The good news is that when you look at this level there are many adjustments you can make to improve the business. The tricky part is making sure any change in one area of the business is followed up by a close look at how it will impact all the other departments. In larger businesses this is done through good communications and trusting in senior people to know what to do. Sometimes a formula for disaster unfortunately. In medium to smaller businesses it is usually the responsibility of the CEO and the senior management team to understand all the implications of the change and see that appropriate changes are made.
An annual process to review your vision is a must. It is also a must when major changes happen in the market, or when key competitors shift direction, especially if they are larger players with significant market share. However, if your vision and strategy are right, you should be a leader, not a follower and these outside factors will have much less impact. This is because a vision should be looking out several years and understanding the direction the market is taking. As Wayne Gretsy once said when asked why he was so much better than other hockey players said "Because I go where the puck is going to be, not where it is". I am not saying major changes should happen each year, adjustments should be minor and always done in "real-time" during the year when significant factors change. It is crucial to run this vision model in your head regularly and be able to recognize when factors should have an impact. This is more art and experience, than science and is also something you can only learn by doing.
Bob Norton is the author of four books on growing companies and CEO of C-Level Enterprises, Inc. which helps companies grow more rapidly with products, training and consulting.