If I were to ask you what the two most important ingredients for growth in business are, what would you say? Think about it for a second.
You’re probably thinking about sales, efficient operations, better marketing, great customer service, or better employees.
Though these are often present alongside growth they are not the driving force behind growth. The two most important ingredients for growth are a compelling vision and clearly defined values. Although these are intangible, they are respectively, the destination you grow towards and the solid foundation that will support all that growth.
But what is vision? And what are values? Definitions for these vary depending on who is giving the answer. So here’s how we define them at Axiom, in a practical way that actually works to drive small business growth.
A statement of the projected future of the organization and its place in the world as defined by the leader.
In its simplest form, your vision is the picture you paint me of what your business will look like down the road. What are we trying to get to? The clearer the picture, the more practically useful your vision will be in your business.
What makes the vision statement important? It unites your organization around a common purpose. It provides a “north star” that every department in your business can use to evaluate decisions and performance.
For example, though sales growth is a great contributor to business growth, how much sales growth is necessary to meaningfully progress toward the vision? Is there a goal your team should aim for? Where [what geographic area] should they focus on growing? What products and services should they lead with? Where should the pricing be? With a clear vision the answers to these question come easier.
What qualities make up a good vision? We’ve written on vision before and you can read all about our thoughts on what makes a good vision, here. But if you want the summary version, a good vision statement must meet these criteria:
A vision statement is a communication tool; the projected future should be clear.
Some of the best vision statements contain a number or something that can be objectively measured. Numbers are the easiest way to provide clarity about what your future organization looks like. “We want to be philanthropic,” and “we want to be able to donate $150,000 a year to local charities” communicate the same thing, but one paints a much clearer picture.
It is set by the leader. Rather than being set by committee, a good vision is set by the business owner and leader in chief.
It must be aspirational. Your vision should describe a future context. It should give the employees working with you something to work towards.
In order to drive growth your vision statement must play a central role in all of your communication. If it just sits on a shelf it will not do anything. If you use it to set goals, to evaluate performance, to judge the fitness of new hires, to decide which partnerships to pursue and which customers to leave… if you actually use it every day it will make a big difference. When vision is recited by leaders in an organization it can unite your people by giving them a purpose to engage with, together.
Enduring and unchanging descriptors of a company’s culture.
With togetherness comes conflict and mess. Values are an important ingredient that direct how your people are to act in pursuit of the vision. Generally, values are unique to each organization and are also set by the leader. If Vision describes where you want the company to go, Values describe the company you are committed to being along the way.
There’s no formula for determining what your values are, but there are a few things to be mindful of when setting values.
Values dictate your culture. Without values, a culture will still exist...it just may not be a culture you want.
Values should be easy to remember. Choose a word, then briefly describe what it means. For example, one of Axiom’s values is truth, which means we speak the truth even when it’s difficult (to say, and hear).
Values should be pre-eminent, not pretentious. It’s what we do that matters. This means two things: 1) Values should be public, so we can be held accountable when we fail. 2) Values should influence every company activity.
Taking from the last bullet point, it’s what we do that matters; the information in this blog is only going to be helpful insofar as you apply it.
In the past, we’ve written largely to an audience of business owners and given practical advice to match. However, we’ve realized there are two groups that have a vested interest here: employees and employers.
To the Employee. The most practical way you can use this information is by “leading up the chain of command.” The phrase comes from authors Leif Babin and Jocko Willink in their book Extreme Ownership. Stated simply, leading up the chain of command means providing your leaders with valuable information they would otherwise not know so that they can support you with the proper tools and resources. In this case, leading up the chain of command means that if your boss hasn’t talked with you about vision or values that’s as much your fault as anyone’s.
Consider asking your boss questions like:
How do you see our values influencing daily operating activities?
What do you hope to accomplish with the company? Where are we going?
What are the words you want vendors and customers to use when they describe their experience with us?
In every instance, these conversations benefit the organization. If your boss cannot articulate vision or values, you have the ability to stress how invaluable they are. If they have vision and values, and but few people know them, you have the ability to help them hone the message and then rebroadcast it to the entire team.
To the Employer. Vision and values are foundational ingredients for your success. Without them, you handicap your company’s growth potential. Do you have a vision? Do you have clearly stated and defined values? If not, your homework is straightforward. Step one is to draft a vision statement and a short list of values.
If you have vision and values, step two is to ensure that your entire organization is acutely aware of them, even to the point of annoyance. There are many ways to do this.
Make them public and visible. Put them on the walls and in the public spaces of your office.
Make performance reviews an evaluation of both technical skills and adherence to values.
Adjust operating activities to be reflective of your values.
Build and execute strategic plans to accomplish your vision. It won’t happen on its own.
It takes a great deal of reflection and intention to define and set vision and values. It doesn’t get any easier when having to do this amidst the day to day hustle. Yet the right ingredients for growing your business are within your control. Focus and align your organization around a shared vision and values, then set your sites on growth.