Friday, November 26, 2010

The Vision Thing - Taking a stab at it!

Having a “Vision” is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for success.  
Not necessary, because there are hundreds of organizations that do not have a ‘vision’ – at least formally -- and have yet been hugely successful; the ‘dabbawalas of Bombay come to mind.  Similarly, there are an equal number of organizations ‘sporting’ elaborate vision statements that have not even taken off the ground.

In my view, a formal vision (statement) is a nice to have.  It certainly helps clear ambiguity, especially, if it is something different from the usual, “leader in our chosen market” type. 
Again, to me, vision is not necessarily the vision statement.  Let me give a notable example.  Here is what I found on the website of The Body Shop. 
“I just want The Body Shop to be the best, most breathlessly exciting company – and one that changes the way business is carried out. That is my vision.”  Anita Roddick. Human Rights Activist.   Founder of The Body Shop. 

That’s a great vision!  But, you may agree that statement, by itself, could hardly be credited with the success of the company.  To my mind, The Body Shop’s real vision is buried deep inside their “Values”.  It goes, “…we always strive to protect this beautiful planet and the people who depend on it. We don’t do it this way because it’s fashionable. We do it because, to us, it’s the only way.”  Building a ‘cosmetic’ company -- with all the baggage the word carries -- around such a value is the real vision; linking the near opposites of ‘cosmetic’ and ‘natural’. 

Visions come in at least two broad flavors.  Some talk about market leadership, growth, return to share holders, serving customers and the like.  In fact a quick review of a random hundred vision statements will reveal that most address such areas.  I call this category “Stab” visions.  (They take a stab at making a statement and they STAte the oBvious.)  When a vision statement states something inevitable, something that no business / organization can do without, that is a Stab vision.  I will go out on a limb and say that such vision statements are useless.  Dump them.  Remove them from your websites.

The other category is where they try to do something more (or less?) than the obvious.  Perhaps even instead of the obvious.  “We will strive NOT to please our customers” is a vision that would certainly fall under this second category!   More seriously, such visions are often product-driven.  They show a certain passion for the product, service or competence that is offered.  Sometimes, a different way of looking at the obvious. 

The recent news story about Café Rottenmeier in Tokyo, is a case in point.  At this café, all the waiters are "granny maids".  They have been selected through an open recruitment process seeking people, aged between 24 and 77, who "see themselves as grannies".  Besides serving their customers with a terse, unsmiling greeting, they even scold them for slouching on chairs or for not removing their coats!  And this ‘customer service’ has been drawing over 500 guests each day, besides huge viral publicity (to which, I now, wittingly contribute)!  Visions like “a PC on every desktop” fall in the same genre.  They reflect a passion, or dimension, for the product or service on offer – not the demands of share holders.

While a vision does not have to be ‘unique’, if it is not about your product or service, if it does not talk about addressing a different aspect (a novel insight?) of your customer behavior, you may be drifting into Stab zone.  


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