Vision and purpose is the secret to a wildly successful business. Vision and purpose gives people the guidance and wisdom to move a business forward. It creates clear thinking and focus, a state of mind that’s absolutely necessary if a business wants to reach its aspirations. Together vision and purpose create a healthy high-performing culture. When people are aligned and know where they’re going they’re happier, feel good and have a greater desire to invest energy back into the business.
When your business doesn’t have a clear vision and purpose it becomes disjointed. Individual work silos pop up everywhere as a survival technique. Each work silo lives by the same silent manta: “If the business leaders can’t figure out an actual vision and purpose we’re just going to make one up.” And people do. This creates redundant work, frustration due to projects going nowhere, political nightmares, and a significant loss of human energy.
A clearly defined vision and purpose reduces anxiety. It eliminates self-sabotaging thoughts and emotions that people drown in when they’re swimming a pool of the unknown. It’s amazing: Let people know exactly where the business is going and how to get there, and the business has happy people. But keep everything a secret, behind closed doors, and only available to management, or just don’t bother figuring out the vision and purpose at all, and the business automatically has ulcers everywhere. Here we go again— your business just got energetically slimed.
Imagine this: You’re in your car at 10 a.m. and you have a meeting in 30 minutes. No worries. You have your phone, and the GPS is on. All good. You’re actually kind of excited for the meeting because it’s taking place at the brand new Innovation Building your company built this year, and you’re going to get the chance to meet Bob, the executive who’s spearheading the Innovation for Humanity initiative your company is launching next year. Next week, you’re interviewing to be one of the leaders heading up the initiative. Today is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to make a great first impression with Bob. A very exciting day. It all starts in 30 minutes!
Coffee and cell phone in hand (you only brought one of your phones with you this time), you’re off and driving. It’s a beautiful day. You’re listening to U2 on the radio. The sky is blue. And a nice breeze is coming through the windows. You are relaxed.
All of sudden your phone starts beeping. You look down and notice that the GPS isn’t working. You have no idea how to get to the Innovation Building. You grab the phone to call the home office and get directions, but you only have one bar and service keeps going in and out. You check the printout of the meeting invite and no directions are included. You say out loud, “What the hell, why is this happening right now? There is no reason why I should only have one bar; the sky is perfectly clear!” In that moment you come to a small traffic jam. All the cars are waiting for a traffic light that appears to be permanently red. Your heart starts beating faster, and you begin feeling sick to your stomach. The meeting is starting in 15 minutes.
Up ahead there’s an exit for Interstate 90 east and west. You remember someone at the office saying that the Innovation Building is off of Interstate 90. You say, “Damn it! Do I go east or west, east or west, east or west??” You choose east, and merge onto I-90.
As you head down 1-90 east you remember that Sarah, one of your coworkers, handed you directions to the Innovation Building last week. You stuffed the directions in your workbag. “Yes! Thank God for Sarah!” While driving, you reach in the back seat for your bag, and at the same time your coffee spills all over your lap. “Crap! Seriously, is this really happening right now??” You manage to get the directions…only to find that you needed to take I-90 west. You look at the clock, and the meeting now starts in two minutes. Frantically, you take the next exit, turn around, and get on I-90 heading west.
You are now 15 minutes late for the meeting, sweating profusely, coffee on your pants, and your heart is beating a million miles a minute. You are full of anxiety, embarrassment, and fear that you’re now going to make a horrible first impression with Bob. You’re convinced that there is no way you will ever get the new leadership role. You start talking yourself off the cliff. “Calm down. Relax. It’s going to be okay. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.” You collect yourself. As you arrive at the Innovation Building you notice that you now have a full five bars on your cell phone. You say under your breath, “Well that’s helpful…not.”
When you walk into the conference room of the Innovation Building, no one is there. The room is completely empty. “What?” You head to the front desk and ask the woman where everyone is. The woman, in a very chipper voice, says, “Oh, that meeting is tomorrow morning at 10:30 a.m. Didn’t they tell you it changed?” You just stare at her with a blank look. “Tomorrow? No, I didn’t know.”
Exhausted, and completely confused, you walk back to your car. You look at the schedule on your phone to make sure you’re not crazy. Your calendar confirms that the meeting was today at 10:30 a.m. Okay, you’re not crazy.
When you get back to the office, you head right to the Admin. “What happened?” The Admin simply says, “Oh, it was a last-minute change. Didn’t anyone tell you? We must have forgotten to add you to the new communication list. Oops. Oh well, we’ll get you on the list next time.”
After all this, you have no motivation to work or accomplish anything, and your pants still have coffee on them. You’re tired. What you really want to do is just go home and veg. You begrudgingly sit at your desk and start reading through 10 critical e-mails. You take a deep breath and decide that you’ll suck it up and get through your day on autopilot.
We’ve all experienced a morning similar to this. Even the most organized of people find themselves in high-stress situations due to others’ lack of direction. Spin it however you want—you should have left earlier; you should have brought two phones (because that’s helpful); you should have gone old school and printed out the directions before you left; you should have remembered that Sarah gave you the directions last week; and you should have checked with the Admin before you left to make sure nothing had changed—just in case. Well, I have a novel “should have” for you: The business should have clearly communicated the change, made sure everyone was crystal clear on the new message, and included directions in the meeting invite. That might have been helpful.
We can all find humor in the story, but it’s not so funny when you realize it’s a metaphor for your business. The “meeting” is the vision of your business. “Meeting Bob, and landing the new leadership role” is the purpose of your business. And the chaos of “getting directions and getting there on time” is how most people feel as they are desperately trying to figure out what the leaders running the business actually want. Most people have it even worse; our story assumes that the business actually has a high-level vision and purpose, when that’s not usually the case.
Another example of the importance of vision and purpose in business is a harbor’s lighthouse on a stormy night. The purpose is clear: Get the ships safely to the harbor. The lighthouse achieves this purpose by having one bright light (the vision) that shines out to sea, guiding all of the ships toward it. If the lighthouse had no light the ships would have no idea where to go, and would run into rocks or crash into each other, and sink. If the lighthouse had multiple lights shining all at one time the same thing would happen. Instead, the lighthouse engineer understands that in order to get all the ships to their destination, there needs to be one bright, undeniable light that guides each ship to shore.
Some businesses try to get away with only having a purpose, saying, “Our purpose is strong enough to move the business forward. All people need to know is why they’re here.” Some businesses try to get away with only having a vision, saying,“Knowing the end destination is what motivates and inspires movement. That’s all we need.” The reality is that a business needs both. People need to be confident that they know why the business exists, and they need to be able to trust that the light you’re shining will get them to the right destination.
Get everyone in the business clearly understanding what direction your business needs to move, and magic happens! You get more customers buying, and you create more jobs and a healthier work environment. Bottom line: figure out where you’re going, why you’re going there, and how it’s going to happen. Then clearly communicate it to everyone.
Gina Soleil, is a speaker and acclaimed author of Fuel Your Business: How to energize people, ignite action and drive profit. She blogs and speaks about how to create a business where people are energized, feel good and are happy. Visit Gina Soleil and follow her on Twitter.