Many growing businesses struggle with three well-known concepts that are commonly confused and misunderstood: vision, values and strategy. Business-building entrepreneurs often talk about their vision in the same context as strategy and values. But they are separate and distinct things that – if improperly mixed – can sabotage the very goals they seek to articulate. Think of them as powerful prescription medicines that keep the business healthy but can be deadly if combined the wrong way.
The first thing to remember about values is that they don’t change. Values are part of your business DNA. Ask yourself: Why does my business exist? And don’t say something lame like “to serve our customers.” That’s not a value. Much as a person’s values define who he or she is, a company’s values define what the business stands for (not merely what it does). And although many smaller businesses don’t consider themselves to have a “culture” in the sense that larger companies use the term, every business has a culture of some kind, knowingly or not.
Values define your business and how you want the people who work there to interact with others. Well-articulated value statements use words such as integrity, innovation, accuracy, loyalty, accountability and teamwork, among others. A business defines its values so everyone has a clear understanding of what they are and can contribute to them as they make decisions and set priorities. Your established values also guide your hiring decisions. Values should be a constant that keeps your business on track though the many challenges it will face in the future.
Vision is different. Your vision is future-focused, and while values are a contributor, vision is about developing clarity and purpose around the most lofty, world- or market-changing goals you have. This is your great aspiration for the business. It’s where you want to get to in, say 10 or 20 years. But it’s not about growth rates or revenues, it’s more about what you want your business to create or achieve over time. That vision won’t be easy to realize and may require constant course changes, hard work and many accumulated successes over time. As you define your vision, shoot for clarity and focus. It’s tempting to talk in fuzzy terms that are difficult for others to interpret, much less follow. Employees, partners, investors, vendors, customers and others must be able to grasp your vision for it to work (they don’t have to agree with it, just understand it).
Only now you can talk about strategy. The most important thing to know about strategy is that it changes all the time – in small steps or radical revisions. That’s critical because business conditions, markets, competition, consumer preferences and a wide range of other factors are constantly in flux. If your strategy remains fixed, you are doomed. Strategy is the roadmap you use to achieve your vision and reach your goals, guided by the GPS of your values.
About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.