March 4, 2016
Business Management  |  8 min read

Why Big Vision Isn’t Enough for All Small Business Success

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Jake Johnson
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After 13 hours of driving, I made it to first light. A pale blue hue splashed across the desert valley as I sped along Highway 93 at over 80 mph.

Just the day before, I was in Seattle. Now, I was nearly 900 miles away, somewhere south of Ely, Nevada. I drove almost the whole night through, stopping for one hour to sleep at a rest stop somewhere along I-84 in Idaho. My neck was still stiff from that poor decision. 

The drive was miserable with constant rain through the long, dark night, buzzing along the freeways at high speeds with near-zero visibility. But I survived, and my reward for this toil was a majestic view of snow-capped desert mountains to my right and a gorgeous splash of color from the rising morning sun. 

My destination was Las Vegas, and I was going to make it just fine. I took a deep breath and relaxed my eyes. I could finally see where I was going.

But this relief was short lived. In the distance, less than an hour later, I saw a scene that looked like this:

snowy mountains.jpg

(Source: http://chossclimbers.com/collections/road-trip-album/collections/road-trip-album/)

For a minute, I thought maybe there was a flood, but soon I realized that I was looking at a thick band of clouds spilling down from the mountains and settling like a thick blanket across the valley. 

As my car plunged into the clouds, I realized it was worse than I could have imagined. I’d never been in fog this thick. In some cases, I could see no further than a couple feet, and as semi-trucks whizzed past me at ungodly speeds in the oncoming lane, I began to wonder if I would make it to Las Vegas after all. 

I knew where I was going. I had a vision for how to get there. But in this moment, with fear rising up, fatigue setting in, and my short-term vision blocked, I felt an immediate and oppressive sense of panic set in. I was no longer focused on making it to Las Vegas. I was just hoping to stay alive. 

The importance of vision

Admittedly, vision is a corporate buzzword. There’s no lack of articles, TED talks, books and blog posts on the topic. But buzzword or not, it’s an important and vital topic for any business to understand and articulate, both for themselves and for the marketplace.

Vision is especially important for your employees—if you want to keep them. As Deloitte University Press reports, 

Our research suggests that the issues of “retention and engagement” have risen to No. 2 in the minds of business leaders, second only to the challenge of building global leadership. These concerns are grounded in disconcerting data.

Among this “disconcerting data”:

More than 70 percent of Millennials expect their employers to focus on societal or mission-driven problems…

But this isn’t just a Millennial issue. As Fast Company reports

Parallel movements across generations have been in existence for quite a while: More than 4.5 million people ages 50 to 70 are already in encore careers that combine personal meaning, continued income, and social impact, and 88 percent of Millennials are seeking work with a greater purpose. It’s time for these two populations to join forces.

The point, as Deloitte elegantly puts it, is that, “The employee-work contract has changed…We call this a shift from improving employee engagement to a focus on building an irresistible organization.

And your vision is key to the construction of this “irresistible organization.” 

The cost of losing short-term vision

But having a grand vision is not enough to keep employees engaged on the day-to-day. Much like even though I knew I was driving to Las Vegas but still panicked when I hit a patch of fog in Ely, Nevada, there are a myriad of “fog patches” that your employees hit on their proverbial highway. 

A truism I’ve observed as both a small business owner and now a manager in a larger organization is this: When short-term challenges seem overwhelming, long-term vision is lost. 

And when long-term vision is lost, employee engagement goes down, turnover goes up, and labor costs skyrocket, with estimates anywhere from six-month’s salary to over 24-month’s salary per lost employee.

Planning for the short and long term

The key then to sustaining employee retention, and in turn achieving your long-term vision, is building a culture that reinforces your ultimate goals while giving clarity in the present. Simply put, you need short-term vision to support your long-term vision.

When I started working at Infusionsoft, I went through a week-and-a-half training program we call On Ramping Experience (ORE). We learned a lot of great things like our values, how the product worked, and more. But of immense value to me was learning about my “Big 3” and how they fit into the organization as a whole.

Here at Infusionsoft, each employee, no matter where they live on the org chart, has three big goals each quarter that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, what we call S.M.A.R.T. goals. 

These Big 3 goals are part of a broader, company-wide quarterly planning process where we set our organizational Big 3, which are tied to three major annual priorities that are tied to a larger three-to-five year mission that is tied to a never-changing vision of why we exist—in our case, “To help small businesses succeed.”

You can learn a lot more about our planning process in this SlideShare from our CEO Clate Mask.

Connecting your employees to the vision in the day-to-day

Later in my ORE training, we covered the leadership model for Infusionsoft. A component of that model is “Set the Vision.” Under that banner are three important things, “Visualize the future. Co-create plans that align. Declare goals and inspire commitment.”

As we sat in a group and discussed this model, it dawned on me that my experience driving through that thick fog in Nevada just a couple weeks earlier was immensely relevant to the discussion.

There’s a red thread that weaves our “Set the vision” mandate together with our model for strategic planning. As a fast-growing tech company, we constantly are hitting patches of fog that, if we’re not careful, can cause us to forget our end destination and instead focus on our fear, panic, and general lack of control. 

In these moments, it’s the short-term goals on which we fix our vision, knowing that they will lead us to our promised destination. They serve as grounding points—mile markers on the highway in a long, exhausting, but immensely satisfying journey. 

The old adage goes, “Fail to plan; plan to fail.” But even more important is the quality of your planning. Today is as good a day as any to take a step back and determine how you’re casting vision at your organization. By giving your employees a vision that is both long-term and tangible in the short-term, your chances for success are much higher. And your employees will thank you for it.

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