Your 3 to 5 year Vision: A Business Strategy Building Block

I’ve had some very interesting conversations with CEOs of growth companies around their 3 – 5 year vision. First of all, most are certain everyone in the company understands where they want to go – even if they haven’t communicated it!  They see it so clearly that they believe everyone else does, too. Second, because they tend not to be “linear thinkers”, it’s very difficult for them to build the bridge between where the company is now and where the company will be three years from now if it achieves that vision.

Many of the entrepreneurs and CEOs I work with can see the vision in their mind’s-eye, but haven’t committed it to paper. Sometimes they really haven’t figured it out and don’t want to share a half-baked vision.  A few keep making it up as they go along.  And small number wants to be free to pursue any new opportunity that pops up.  They see a vision as a constraint, and think that not having a vision enables them to be nimble and flexible.  Instead, they find their staff saying, “You told us we were going to do this, and now you’re telling us we’re going to do that.  Why can’t you make up your mind?”

 Being able to articulate your vision is incredibly important to your staff.  They want to support you and they want the company to be a success.  But as one employee asked his CEO, “What IS your vision for this company?  I can’t keep working this hard if I don’t know!” 

When I begin to work with a company, we begin by “blue-skying” where they want the company to be in thirty-six months. (Somehow months don’t seem as daunting as years!)

 I always begin with customers – because the only reason a company exists is to provide something that customers want and will pay for. If you’re going to stay in business, your company needs to provide value to current customers, or find new customers who want what you are offering.

Since matching your offerings to customers is critical to growth, the second thing we look at is your current and projected mix of product/service offerings, given the customers you want. That often leads to a good discussion about what your company is now offering, could be offering, used to offer, and needs to offer.

The third element is resources – people, time and money. We usually separate the three and discuss what people you’ll need (with what kinds of knowledge, skills and expertise) in order to sell the customers the products and services you want to develop.

We then talk about the money and time that will be required to bring this vision to fruition. It’s always good to have the team that will be responsible for executing the vision at the table when you’re discussing the vision because they know how to “build the bridge”, i.e., they understand the steps required to get from “here” to “there”.

We then think about three possible visions: optimistic, likely and pessimistic. While the CEO is excited by the optimistic vision, the team usually opts for the “most likely” vision – and that’s when leadership becomes important.

The point is not whether the final vision is optimistic, realistic, or pessimistic.  What matters is that the CEO and team have a shared understanding of the vision and the time and resources it will take to achieve it.

A shared vision is powerful. It keeps people motivated, provides meaning, and makes each person’s job significant.  Your role as CEO is to create the vision of where the company is going, engage your team in estimating what it will take to get there, and then make sure your employees really understand how what they do contributes to the achievement of that vision.