Many growing businesses as well as startups struggle with three well-known concepts that are commonly confused and misunderstood: vision, values and strategy. Business-building entrepreneurs often talk about their “vision” in the same context as strategy and values.
But they are separate and distinct things that – if improperly mixed – can sabotage the very goals they seek to articulate. Think of them as powerful prescription medicines that keep your business healthy, on track and focused but can also be deadly if combined the wrong way.
Much like a person’s values define who he or she is, a company’s values define what the business stands for – not merely what it does. And although many small and local businesses don’t consider themselves to have a “culture” in the sense that larger companies use the term, every business has a culture of some kind, knowingly or not.
Values define your business and how you want the people who work there to interact with others. Businesses that try to describe their values in writing tend to use words such as integrity, innovation, accuracy, loyalty, accountability and teamwork, among many others. Putting your values in writing can be helpful so everyone has a clear understanding of what those values are and how they can contribute to them as they do their daily work.
Your established values also help to guide your hiring decisions. Values should be a constant that keeps your business on track through the many challenges it will face in the future.
“Vision,” however, is quite different. Your vision is future-focused, and while values are a contributor, vision is about developing clarity and purpose around the loftiest goals you have for your business.
This is your great aspiration for how your product or service will be better in some way, and where you want to get to in, say 10 or 20 years. But it’s not simply about growth rates, revenue or margins. It’s more about what you want your business to create or achieve in a broader sense over time.
That vision won’t be easy to realize and may require constant course changes, hard work and many accumulated successes over time. That’s where vision differs from values, which are fixed. As you define your vision, shoot for clarity and focus as much as you can. For example, if you see yourself with more locations, serving specialized types of customers, or developing a broader range of products or services, put it all down. It’s tempting to talk in fuzzy terms that are difficult for others to interpret, much less follow. •
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