Business vision: Mapping your way to the promised land

By Mark S. Carrow and Paul AdelizziPoint Blank

In my youth, I was a die-hard Philadelphia 76ers fan. I can only imagine what former general manager Pat Williams saw in his team’s future in the early 1970s.

At first glance, he may have seen the worst team in NBA history. I certainly remember that nine-win season. But his vision for the team led him to bring one of the most prominent players of all time, Julius Erving, to Philadelphia. A couple of key draft picks (Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney) solidified the backcourt, and a controversial trade for Bobby Jones brought the 76ers from perpetual cellar dwellers to the NBA championship finals. This was quite an accomplishment at the time, but it was not enough. Williams knew the team was good, but needed one more piece to get over the hump. He went out and landed Moses Malone, the best center in the game, and the title was theirs in 1983. Williams had vision.

What is the first thing you see when you walk into your office in the morning? Is it the previous day’s clutter? Is it your daily to-do list? If this is all that is in your immediate purview, maybe your vision is impaired.

Make sure your vision isn’t shortsighted

Think about it. If you are only looking at the present, you may be missing fantastic future opportunities. Vision is defined as “an aspirational description of what you would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future.” Concentrating on a current product line, even though it may be successful, is shortsighted. What is the next big thing? How do we get there? Who will help us identify the next trend? Imagine what the world would be like had Steve Jobs decided he was content with the original iteration of the Mac. At the time, it was the best piece of computer equipment out there. Apple couldn’t make enough of them to keep up with demand. It put the company on the map and, I’m sure, satisfied many of Jobs’ short- and long-term goals. But what if his vision had stopped there?

How do we tighten up our business vision? I wish it were as easy as going to the eye doctor and reading lettered charts. Good vision is marked by the ability to clearly see smaller and smaller letters. The task becomes increasingly difficult as the letters shrink. This parallels business vision. It becomes increasingly difficult to see, the further out you project. The further you look, the more variables there are.

Recognizing the direction from which these variables are coming, and developing strategies to adapt to those challenges, is the only way to bring your vision to life.

Your business vision differs from your business values in that your values should not change. Values define who you are as a person and, in a business sense, what type of culture and ideals surround your business. Who you have working for you, and how they interact with others on your team, sets the standards for values within your organization. Vision is quite different from values, in that vision should be future-focused and perpetually changing based on the influence of market factors. Striving for clarity and focusing on the details enables your vision to become sharper as events unfold.

Vision vs. mission

Most companies express their business vision in their mission statement. This statement is usually an expression of what already exists. Some details may change over time as market and client influences change, but the underlying message remains constant. The mission statement may describe milestones you wish to achieve along the way and usually falls into one of four categories:

  1. Targets. These usually quantify goals you have set for your organization. They can be generic or specific. This is the company’s way of keeping score.
  2. Competition. Who are you up against and what is the plan for competing with or unseating them? Are you setting yourself up to fail by creating unrealistic challenges?
  3. Role models. What company do you want your company to look like? Are these role models the same caliber of organization that you want yours to be?
  4. Structure. Does the way you see yourself match the way others see you? What can you do internally to align yourself with how you want people to perceive your organization?

Vision and values are not chosen — they are discovered. You grow into the company that you see based on actions you develop over time. Your employees must be able to grasp your vision and fully understand it for it to be effective. Once you see your vision to its end, once you have achieved your initial goals, they must immediately be replaced with newer and greater visionary goals. Without this revamping, you may become complacent and stagnant. This does not necessarily mean a complete re-branding or re-inventing of yourself or your business. You just need to keep looking forward.

As to the current breed of Philadelphia 76ers, let’s hope the new general manager, Sam Hinkie, sees something that we don’t. His vision has the team completely broken down to the core, and hopefully the process is aimed at reliving the successes from 32 years ago. I know all local hoop fans agree.

Paul Adelizzi, CPA, and Mark S. Carrow, CPA, MS, are members of Citrin Cooperman’s Philadelphia office, which provides tax services, business consulting advice, valuation services, and merger and acquisition guidance. www.citrincooperman.com. Contact Mr. Adelizzi at padelizzi@citrincooperman.com. Contact Mr. Carrow at mcarrow@citrincooperman.com.

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