Corporate Cultures

Vision Quest

by Ray Knight and Rob Sanders

           Let's try a quick quiz: what is the vision of your company?  Say it out loud or write it down on a piece of paper.

All done?  Great!  Give yourself 100 points, but:
1)  Deduct 25 points if you took longer than 30 seconds to answer the quiz.
2)  Deduct 25 points if you took more than seven words to state your company's vision.
3)  Deduct 25 points if you used the words "commitment to excellence."
4)  Deduct 25 points if you had to look it up in the annual report.

 What's your final score?  Anything less than 100 means either that your company's vision is unfocused and unmemorable or that it's poorly communicated.  Or both.

 Unfortunately, corporate vision statements tend to be pompous and mostly meaningless puffery, stuffed with cliches like "commitment to excellence" (an honorable statement in itself, but degraded by now to a mindless kneejerk bromide).  Contrived by bored executive committees, they're generally printed in the company annual report and maybe inscribed on the obligatory plaque to adorn the executive suite    and forgotten.  Usually, no one pays attention to them, let alone lives by them.

 The vision statement of a company is a declaration of intent, a proposition for where the company wants to go, what it wants to be.  The culture of a company should be shaped with a single-minded mission to accomplish that vision (a mission statement should describe how to do it).  The vision should be simple, easy to understand, and on top of every employee's mind, guiding every action and thought.

 How would your employees do on our quiz?  There's a simple way to find out    ask them. Next time you're out on the floor, ask employees at random, "What do you think is the vision of this company?"  We can guess at the answers you'll get.

 Vice President:  "A commitment to excellence in maximizing return-on-investment for our stockholders and providing superior customer service for our guests in a safe, clean environment that provides equal opportunity employment with respect for diversity."

 Director: "Something about investors and the customer comes first.  And that diversity thing."

 Manager:  "Make money, right?  I mean, am I right?"

 Supervisor:  "Can we do this some other time?  We're a little busy here."

 Blackjack dealer:  "Beats the heck outta me, I'm just here for the tokes."

 Housekeeper:  "Huh?"

 It's not our intent to belittle or make fun of any casino employee group.  These are actual answers we've received from actual employees in casinos.   Their answers aren't their fault.  It's the result of  working in corporate cultures with no clear vision or one that is poorly defined and communicated.  Ask the same question of any employee at Disney World, and most likely the next thing you'll hear is "We create happiness."  The vision is clear.  Employees know why they're there.

 To be truly effective, your vision should take only a few precious and precise words to state.  Anything more than seven to ten words means the vision statement is a smokescreen for lack of a crystal clear direction.  For all its enormous complexity, the D-Day invasion at Normandy had a simple vision that every dogface could remember even in the horrible confusion on the beaches   Rid the world of Nazi tyranny.

 To galvanize your company's culture, focus it on a single shining idea and stick with it.  Make it part of the daily ritual and keep at it constantly.  Teach it from the moment an employee sits down to fill out a job application.  Teach it by living it, letting it be reflected in every decision and action you make.  Inspire your executive staff to do the same.  Employees learn by the examples set by management.  Keep asking the question, "What do you think is the vision of this company."  Your goal should be to have every employee be a 100-pointer.

 When employees know exactly why they're there, they know what's expected of them, know how to fit in and get along, know how to deal confidently with situations, know what's ahead on the road in front of them.  They're likely to be more productive, more loyal, more unified.

 The beliefs and attitudes of your employees are molded by the corporate culture.  From the very first day, employees are made keenly aware of "This is how we do things around here."  Whether "how we do things" is for good or ill depends on the culture that you have either created with your vision....or allowed to happen on its own.

(This article appeared in the March 2000 issue.)