What is needed to establish a strong vision?
Knowing that winning strategies are always off the beaten path, what can you come up with to anticipate and control developments in your field of activity?
An example: if, in your company, artificial intelligence (AI) is regarded as a way of 'digitising' internal processes that your IT department will need to gradually learn to master, you have already lost the battles to come. Because artificial intelligence has an ability that all of your engineers, financial, commercial and logistical experts combined can never equal, even if they were to work for 100 years: deep learning. It enables the continuous learning from the initial intelligence, by integrating millions of interactions from gigantic databases. For example: it was recently confirmed that AI can currently detect signs of breast cancer much better than doctors by reading mammograms. Doctors will have to keep on their toes. In the coming years, AI will be extended to all diagnoses and will radically change the way we think about medicine and our health as a whole.
Can you imagine today what AI could do for your business?
Have you ever analysed how technological developments, shifts in consumption habits, climate change, demographics and its societal impact, the evolution of knowledge and education, environmental protection and mobility will influence your customers' demand and therefore the vision that you will need to develop for the products and services you offer?
Unfortunately, due to a lack of vision, many companies are still implementing 'replication' strategies. With the electrification of the car fleet, major automotive brands worldwide are offering last century's models, adapted to run on electricity, while we ought to be completely rethinking the concept of the car.
How to escape these all too pervasive limitations? How to step away from the ordinary? How can you develop a strong business vision, even if your name doesn't happen to be Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Sergey Brin? If Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and so many other innovators have always gone against the way their contemporaries were thinking, it's because they were convinced that staying on the beaten path wouldn't get them anywhere!
A brilliant idea is of little value
Let's start with the first obvious fact: an idea of genius has little value. All of its value depends on its implementation. And to put this idea into practice in a business context, there may be competent people on all floors of the company. What is needed is a well-functioning elevator.
Second obvious fact: when something is standing still, it deteriorates. It is in making things move that we keep them intact. Elon Musk has recently acknowledged this. The over-automation of his factories almost ruined his business. Fortunately for him, he was able to count on a responsive organisation – and a strong one – to deal with the problem and rectify the situation.
In other words: defining a strong vision that will lead to winning strategies requires not only being able to move outside of your comfort zone, but also the innovation process to be integrated within the entire company.
A vegetarian butcher, an insurer who only hopes for the best for you
An industrial group that is specialised in meats has every interest in positioning itself on the vegetarian hamburger market, considering that climate change, the protection of water resources and agricultural land have become societal issues that are turning more and more meat-eating consumers into 'flexitarians'.
A public transport company such as STIB, De Lijn or TEC could contribute to the transport of packages resulting from e-commerce, considering that hundreds of buses, trams and metro trains regularly travel tens of thousands of kilometres every day, both in cities and in the countryside.This would greatly reduce the carbon impact of e-commerce while generating new resources to invest in improving the vehicle fleet, extending the network in the countryside, and increased comfort that would attract new customers.
An insurance company could absolutely stand out from its competitors in terms of its customers' needs for protection, by focusing its activities chiefly on prevention rather than claims management, thanks to online applications that are already widely used. This Google of prevention-insurance who hopes for the best for you will be able to better manage its customers' risks by reducing the number of claims while improving its financial results and its ability to attract new customers.
All this can be achieved thanks to three crucial elements: the core purpose (mission), vision and values of the company.
Mission, vision, values… a cocktail that can be difficult to handle
What would drive the industrial group specialised in meat, the transport company and the insurer to implement winning strategies, is the need to anticipate the market trends, to ensure the growth and profitability necessary to secure the future.
Any winning strategy absolutely depends on a strong vision that is based on the organisation's core purpose (its 'mission').
Plus, the implementation of a strategy is necessarily supported by human values that mobilise employees and let them all work together towards the same goal: to give value to brilliant ideas!
Let's leave the 'missions' to the military and James Bond
When it comes to developing new strategies, the first step is always to check whether your company's 'mission' is still intact and... up to date.
But first of all, a word of advice: replace the term 'mission' by 'core purpose'.
The core purpose of an organisation is much more explicit than the word mission, which has an outdated connotation. Ask your receptionist what the core purpose of her job is and she can answer it with words that reflect her concrete experience. Talk to her about her mission and she will look at you in bewilderment. Ask your workers about their mission and they will look at you like you're an alien. Talk to them about the core purpose of their work and you will find out all the details of their machines, of their fantastic job and how proud they are of what they do. This applies to all functions at all levels of the company. So replace the word mission once and for all with core purpose!
Why look for the core purpose? Because this is the reason why your activity was created and that your organisation exists. This is what will give meaning to the work of employees. Without roots, we don't know where we've come from and even less, where we can go. A core purpose should inspire your employees. Creating shareholder value is of course very important for the growth of any business, but it has never motivated any employee to go above and beyond in their work day to day.
A core purpose does not have to be unique. Feeding people is the core purpose of many food companies. But if your core purpose is to feed people healthily and sustainably, your 'business model' has to be completely different! And what will make you unique is the way in which you will develop this core purpose by working on your vision.
The core purpose is therefore crucial for defining what kind of company you want to become! Without core purpose, there can be no vision.
To illustrate this point, let's go to prison.
Open prisons to better protect citizens
The state is building new prisons to deal with chronic prison overcrowding. It is doing so based on the core purpose of a prison: to protect society from individuals who could be a threat to citizens. Only, there is a problem. These prisons are all the same, a 'single' model: a modern version of the prisons of yesteryear, a version that is nevertheless universally considered 'criminogenic' by specialists. Should we question the core purpose? Absolutely not. But we should add a fundamental nuance here. For over a century, we have been progressing in our knowledge of the psychological and social mechanisms that lead to delinquency. We also have electronic bracelets for confining an individual at home. Integrating into the core purpose the notion that the protection of society will be much better served if we pay attention to the psychological profile of each prisoner opens up new possibilities for the state to review its vision of the prison sector.
In this case, a first way of implementing the core purpose is to ensure surveillance to such a degree that no 'irredeemable' prisoner can escape, in order to protect society from those individuals who constitute a threat to it, for the duration of their sentence. In this case, we could build high-tech prisons to ensure zero escape.
A second formula would rather aim to allow many prisoners to be sustainably reintegrated into society socially, thus protecting it in the long term. In this case, prisons could be more open and could become places of work, learning, psychological support and detoxification while confining individuals in a semi-open environment for the duration of their sentence.
Of course, a state needs both types of prisons and it should stop building the single type we know today. A core purpose therefore significantly shapes the subsequent formulation of a vision.
Trust the team to develop the mission
A good way to define your organisation's core purpose is to put together a team of 4 to 6 employees chosen in a broad and non-hierarchical way. Working from the existing activities, they will question how these activities meet a specific need. In the course of several sessions they will go back over the history of the company, and talk with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders, each time asking: why? They will formulate a core purpose that they will share and discuss with other colleagues but also with customers to arrive at a final validation by the senior management of the company.
You will see that well-orchestrated group work will help you to (re)discover the authenticity of your core purpose... which may be undergoing changes unbeknownst to you! Each time this exercise has been done, we have seen companies considerably enrich their initial core purpose. It offers a particularly stimulating basis for developing a strong vision and values that are truly capable of mobilising an entire organisation.
In a second article we will see how to develop this type of strong and mobilising vision. We will also start from the reality of today's businesses to see how to formulate the shared values that will allow your organisation to implement its own winning strategies.