Creating a compelling vision of the future is something that leaders of business strive to achieve. Many end up with lengthy mission statements which are hard to comprehend and even harder to implement. You can avoid this fate by remembering the words of the founder of modern strategy, Michael E. Porter, who observes: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”
In my experience, a strategic vision is useful if it enables people to determine activities that are meaningful and beneficial to them and the stakeholders they serve. A constructive challenge that I find beneficial when working with a team to formulate or evaluate strategy is as follows:
1. By saying Yes to this, what are we saying No to?
2. By saying No to this, what are we saying Yes to?
3. Are we happy with the potential outcome of our answers to the above?
This approach helps avoid group-think where the team is swayed by elegant words that when examined, may lack substance or have unintended negative consequences.
Vision statements can be powerful, but a vision must cascade as a goal that people can believe in; otherwise, it is just words. Only people can make it real, and this requires their understanding of and commitment to the future vision. None of this happens by chance. Engaging people through clear open communication is a critical element in making the envisaged future a reality. A tremendous strategic vision not only has an immediate impact, but it will also be capable of communication with conviction in any medium.
Below is a technique that I use to help my business clients uncover a compelling vision for the future.
What’s Our Big Hairy Audacious Goal?
Many highly successful businesses use BHAGs to achieve this. BHAG stands for ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’, an idea promoted in the book, ‘Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies’ by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. According to Collins and Porras, a BHAG is a long-term goal that changes the very nature of a business’ existence.
BHAGs can be extremely useful for turning ‘vision’ into something everyone can believe in and commit to achieving. BHAGs are meant to shift how you do business, the way the market perceives your firm, and by the clients you currently serve and those you wish to help. Collins and Porras describe BHAGs on a corporate level as nearly impossible to achieve without consistently working outside of a comfort zone and displaying organisational commitment, confidence and single-minded focus on implementation.
BHAGs are more prominent, bolder and stronger than regular long- and short-term goals. They typically take a 10-year plus commitment, but they are exciting, tangible, and something everyone ‘gets’ without any further explanation. Many highly successful businesses have used BHAGs to envisage their ‘One Future’ – and then plan for it.
Notable Examples of BHAGs
Amazon: Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.
Disney: Be the best company in the world for all fields of family entertainment.
Google: Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
JFK’s Moon Challenge: This nation should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.
Creating Your BHAG
This exercise is designed to generate a couple of BHAGs for the business to achieve, starting with defining a compelling future. Then you can move onto developing a long-term vision for the future of your business. You could consider doing this exercise with the leadership team and others who are responsible for the strategic direction of the company.
I run a BHAG workshop to help the leadership team depict the future using the following question: “What will the company look like in 10 years?” Ahead of time, I set each participant the same short exercise to stimulate and help them think beyond the day job. Strategic thinking is an art as well as a process. My role is as a guide and coach in both disciplines. Sharing the results on the day creates a great sense of team-spirit and buy-in.
I assist participants in these workshops in going more in-depth to get a real look and feel for the outcome. I use a variety of techniques, including strengths profiling for the team, facilitating discussion with a set of searching questions and several interactive exercises. Challenging and dynamic, it is a fantastic way of tapping into creativity. A team can achieve breakthroughs when people allow a free flow of ideas without anyone being critical or judgmental.
As a trained facilitator, I know how to guide input from influential people and ensure conflicting ideas come to the surface and are openly discussed. Disagreement doesn’t need to be disagreeable! Capture the full diversity of thinking and leveraging the range of strengths within the team will benefit the whole.
Once completed, we then regroup to find patterns and key themes. These can be reorganised to extract the most potent to work up into the ‘One Future’ or invented vision for the firm of tomorrow. It is essential to pick the elements that that most convergent to create the ‘One Future’. I facilitate these sessions by encouraging people to test the solidity and completeness of the BHAG and how this ‘One Future’ communicates to others.
Of course, once agreed, the BHAG needs to be broken down into specific and measurable mini-goals to move towards achieving it. Naturally, this can’t be done all in one day and will require further work. This process includes assessing if all the things that are done today as a business should continue and what changes are needed to refocus resources afresh.
A shared vision that provides clarity of purpose is a powerful touchstone as it allows people to make crucial decisions with confidence. If you would like to discuss how I might help your leadership team create a compelling strategy to drive sustainable business growth, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org