“The Vision Driven Leader” by Michael Hyatt is a practical guide on how to drive success in any organization by developing a vision and communicating that vision to those you lead.
I recently finished this book and found it to be applicable to the work I do as an Engineering Manager. This post is a collection of the notes I took that can be easily referenced at any time.
What Is Vision?
According to Hyatt, vision is a clear, inspiring, practical, and attractive picture of your organization’s future. An imagined future—usually just three to five years out—superior to the present, which motivates you, which guides day-to-day strategy and decision-making, and around which your team can rally.
A vision is not a guarantee. Plenty of visions fail. But having no vision is a guarantee of failure.
Leadership is not a gently sloping road. Oftentimes there is no road. It’s only possessing a clear vision that enables leaders to make a way when none previously existed. It all comes down to what you want. Unless you’re clear on that, you’ll never stand a chance of achieving it.
Six Pitfalls of Vision-Deficit Leaders
Vision-deficit leaders trip headlong into one or more of six pitfalls:
- Unpreparedness for the future – computer scientist Alan Kay is famous for saying, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Vision is the first step in doing that. Without it, leaders are unprepared for whatever is coming next.
- Missed opportunities – opportunity, where other investors saw only obstacles.
- Scattered priorities – “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on,” Steve Jobs famously said. “But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
- Strategic missteps – vision helps us avoid strategic missteps and failures.
- Wasted money, time, and talent – vision provides a direction for execution, as well as a standard by which to judge performance. The right vision reminds people what we’re building and why it matters.
- Premature exits.
What Is Mission?
Both mission and vision inform strategy but in different ways.
Mission provides day-to-day clarity by defining the identity and scope of the business. Without a clear mission, you can easily drift off target and head into either too many directions, or the wrong direction.
An effective mission statement keeps you on task by answering four questions:
- Who are we?
- Who do we serve?
- What problem do we solve?
- What transformation do we deliver?
The answers to these four questions define your identity, your clientele, and your answer to your customers’ challenges, along with the results you produce.
A mission defines what a business is, a vision describes where it’s going. Mission is here; vision is still out there. Mission is now; vision is next.
An effective mission statement is tightly worded, sharply focused, and memorable. You should be able to boil it down to a couple of sentences. “It should fit on a T-shirt,” as Peter Drucker once said.
A proper Vision Script is not a tagline or a bumper sticker. It’s a robust document, written in the present tense, that describes your future reality as if it were today. How far in the future? Hyatt recommends three to five years. You can go longer, but in author’s experience you’ll find the biggest gains in the three-to-five window.
How To Draft A Vision?
The trick is to step into the future and record what you see in four key areas of your business:
- Your team.
- Sales and marketing.
The Future Of Your Team
It’s important to begin your Vision Script with your team. Why? Because your team makes everything else possible.
So, what does the ideal team look like to you three years out?
When you imagine your team three years out, what do you see, for instance, in terms of their talents, experience, and work-life balance? What do you provide in terms of benefits, work environment, and incentives? There are no right or wrong answers. It just comes down to what you want for your team.
Some examples from the Michael Hyatt & Co (author’s company). Vision Script include these:
- “Our teammates live and breathe our core ideology. They possess impeccable character, extraordinary talent, and proven track records”.
- “Our employees experience reasonable autonomy, planning and executing their own work, without the impediment of overbearing management, stifling bureaucracy, or procedural red tape”.
- “We encourage innovation and experimentation. If something doesn’t work, we learn from it and move on.”
The Future Of Your Product
What are the products or the services you offer?
At Michael Hyatt & Co., the Vision Script says, “We create products that enable leaders to get the focus they need to win at work and succeed at life.” From there they elaborate with additional details: “We create products that delight our customers, exceed their expectations, and deliver dramatic transformation.”
A helpful tip for thinking through future products is to ask what you could create that would help you fulfill your mission.
The Future Of Your Sales And Marketing
How do you get those amazing products to market?
This is fundamentally about how you relate to your customers.
At Hyatt’s company, they say, “We employ customer acquisition strategies that make our offers irresistible.” Then they build upon that with other statements: “We understand that our clients and customers are the real heroes. We serve as a guide offering a plan that helps them overcome their obstacles and achieve their desired transformation”; and “We see world-class, hospitality-inspired customer experience as an essential marketing activity.”
The Future Of Your Impact
Finally, your Vision Script should describe the intended outcome of the team’s effort. What’s the result of your realizing your vision?
In this last domain of Hyatt’s company’s script, they start by saying, “As a result, we are transforming our world and achieving outstanding results.” From there they cover the operational status of our principals, key financial metrics, team turnover rate, and this final nonnegotiable: “We have achieved these extraordinary results without compromising our values or culture.”
Questions For Prompting Vision
When describing this future, you want to write in the present tense, as though your vision has already happened.
To help you get started, you can ask yourself a number of probing questions.
- What kind of teammates do you want to attract?
- What characteristics do they all share in common?
- How do they work?
- What is their work ethic?
- What do you do to attract top talent?
- What is your compensation philosophy?
- What does your benefits package look like?
- Why are prospective employees attracted to your company?
- What makes people beg to join your company?
- What does your office environment look like?
- Why does that matter to you?
- What results do your products create?
- What value do they deliver?
- Who do your products help?
- How do your customers feel when they use your products?
- What’s the user experience like?
- What does your production-creation process look like?
- How do you choose what to offer?
- What makes your products superior to those of your competitors?
Sales and Marketing
- What markets do you serve?
- How large is your customer base?
- How do you reach them?
- How much does it cost you to acquire new customers?
- What’s your cost per lead?
- What’s the lifetime value of your customer?
- How do you see your marketing, sales, and customer experience teams operating?
- What’s their role in customer acquisition and retention?
- What are your results—by whatever metrics are most meaningful to you and your team?
- For instance, what’s your revenue, your profit, staff count, or the size of your mailing list?
- What financial thresholds excite you as the leader?
- What are you, as the leader, free to do with your time and role?
- How do you hope that growth in your organization will impact you and your team?
- How do your industry peers and competitors think of you?
How To Improve Your Initial Vision Draft?
To challenge your initial vision draft, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it clear?
- Does it inspire?
- Is it practical?
- Can you sell it?
Is It Clear?
Vision needs to be concrete and explicit.
Five steps to gain clarity:
- Admit you’re unclear.
- Recognize your blinders.
- Ask for input.
- Process the feedback.
- Just start.
Does It Inspire?
There are four characteristics to ensure it does:
- It focuses on what isn’t, not what is.
- It’s exponential, not incremental.
- It’s risky, not stupid.
- It’s focused on what, not how.
What Isn’t, Not What Is
The first gas-powered taxi was built by Gottlieb Daimler in 1897. Later that year, Friedrich Greiner started the first motorized taxi company in Stuttgart.9 Fast-forward a hundred years or so. In 2006, more than 240 million people rode in a taxi in New York City.10 Clearly, the taxi business wasn’t a new idea. This is what I mean by the “what is.”
Along came Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick. By focusing on the “what isn’t”—namely, a taxi company that didn’t own any cars and didn’t have any drivers on the payroll—they founded Uber.
Exponential, Not Incremental
Steve Jobs said, “iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone.” He was right. An incremental vision would have been a better physical keyboard, one with smoother action, ideally sized buttons, and so on.
Risky, Not Stupid
There’s a difference between a vision so big it makes you uncomfortable and one that’s just plain stupid. How can you tell? Here are a few qualifying questions. Are you likely to fail? If yes, it’s stupid, not risky. Does your team believe in it, or can the key stakeholders get aligned on it? If no, it’s stupid, not risky. Does the risk imperil your mission? Unless your mission is already imperiled and the new vision is your plan to survive, it’s stupid, not risky.
Anything big and inspiring will be a bit risky, but it shouldn’t be stupid.
What, Not How (Vision vs Strategy)
Vision is about what the future looks like, not how you plan on getting there.
Vision and strategy are both important. But there is a priority to them. Vision (what) always precedes strategy (how). If there’s no destination, there’s no path to get there. But if you have a clear vision, you will eventually find the right strategy to arrive where you want to go. Without vision, no strategy will save you.
Is It Practical?
You’ll know your Vision Script is practical if you can:
- Work to it
- Hire to it.
Working to Your Vision
This is about the relationship between vision and strategy. Strategy serves vision, but only a practical vision can serve strategy. Vision is about where you’re going, and strategy is the path you’re planning to take. Vision comes first because there’s no path without a destination. But without a path, there’s no progress.
|Mission||Who you are|
|Vision||Where you are going|
|Strategy||How you are going to get there|
|Values||The kind of people you are along the way|
Starting with the vision and working backward, we craft a strategy, then set goals, and then break down those goals into meaningful next steps. You can climb an entire mountain like that. Keep your eye on the peak and every step counts. This is where long-term strategy and daily productivity meet.
The Link Between Strategy and Productivity
It comes down to five elements:
- Vision Script. The Vision Script is the basis of everything else. As we’ve seen already, it’s a clear, inspiring, practical, and attractive picture of your team, products, marketing, and impact three to five, though possibly more, years into the future.
- Annual plan. From that vision comes this year’s annual plan. What will you do this coming year to make progress on your vision? What projects will you undertake that will bring you closer? What initiatives will you start or stop? What products will you create or retire? The clearer your Vision Script, the more apparent the answers to these questions will be. In my experience, the best annual plans identify seven to ten key goals that help leaders make progress on their visions.
- Quarterly goals. If all your annual goals are due at the end of the year, you’ll likely delay progress in the meantime, and you’ll also overwhelm your team with activity near the deadline. Instead, you want to pace yourself throughout the year as best you can. Look at your list of annual goals. You’ll want to pursue two to three per quarter. Think of these as your Quarterly Big 3—near-term objectives that can keep you focused and drive productivity, rather than promote procrastination and inevitable overwhelm.
- Weekly objectives. To stay on target for your Quarterly Big 3, you need a Weekly Big 3, composed of three weekly achievements that will move the needle on your major goals (as well as key projects). I recommend a Weekly Preview process in which you review your Quarterly Big 3 each week and decide what three next steps to prioritize in the coming week. It doesn’t mean it’s all you’ll do during the week, but your Weekly Big 3 are the objectives that matter more than any others.
- Daily tasks. Your weekly objectives then inform your daily to-dos. I recommend choosing just three key tasks each day —your Daily Big 3. Don’t worry if that seems like too few. Trust me: they add up, and they keep you focused and on track. Once you gain the focus that comes from identifying your Daily Big 3 every day, you’re going to know that no matter what else happened, you accomplished three high-leverage tasks to help you realize your goals and, ultimately, your vision.
Many Paths Up The Mountain
No matter how much intention and planning you employ, unforeseen problems and obstacles will emerge and force you to change your strategy.
There’s always more than one way to reach your destination. If you want a cake, you can:
- (a) bake one yourself from scratch.
- (b) bake one from a mix.
- (c) buy one from a bakery.
Any of the three will produce a cake.
We should expect to change strategies—sometimes many times—before reaching our destination.
Hiring to Your Vision
Vision is a together kind of thing. If your dream doesn’t require a team, chances are good you’re dreaming too small. That’s why a practical vision is good for more than planning. It’s also good for people, not only in hiring them but also in keeping them aboard once you’ve got them.
Author Laurie Beth Jones considers vision an important recruiting tool. That’s true in two ways:
- A compelling vision sells the company to prospective employees.
- It helps you filter applicants. It sets the bar and clarifies the kind of employee who best fits on your team.
Just as vision suggests strategy, it also suggests what kind of people you need on your team. New initiatives may require new talent or they might require moving existing talent into new positions.
Can You Sell It?
The surest test of your vision is whether you can sell it to four key stakeholders:
- Your immediate team.
- The organizational leadership (if you’re the CEO, this might include your board or investors).
- To the rest of the company down the chain.
- Across the organization.
Depending on how your company is wired, you may also choose to sell your vision outside of the company to watchers in the media.
Invite refinement from key stakeholders. Not only will you get vital input to improve your vision, people more willingly support what they shape. “The best vision,” as former CEO and consultant Dan Ciampa says, “will come from a disciplined, iterative approach that enables the leader to control how the picture is crafted, while also ensuring that others who need to be aligned feel some ownership.”
It’s best to start with your direct reports. You want to be collaborative here, not dictatorial. “I’ve spent some time reflecting on how to improve our future destination,” you might begin. “This is not about what I’m going to accomplish. Rather, here’s what I believe we could collectively do with all of the talent in this room. I need and welcome your input.” You want their input and validation, yes, but more importantly, you want to enroll them in a journey that you’re going to take together.
It is good to think of this internal discussion as tackling three interrelated challenges:
The Change Challenge
The goal with selling is gaining alignment, not changing people. You’ve got enough change to manage without adding that to the mix. So, when you roll out your vision, it’s important to say, “Here’s what’s not going to change.” In those very words.
The Personnel Challenge
If you can legitimately say this, assure them, “We envision a place for each of you in this new plan for the future.” It’s useful to explain exactly what will change and what will stay the same. But we also have to be realistic.
The person they need to be in the future may require them to stretch and grow because the company is in a different place.
You’ve probably heard that everybody is tuned in to the radio station WII-FM:
- What’s In It For Me? If I’m going to take this journey with you, they’re thinking, what does that mean for me?
- What’s my upside? They want to know why this new vision will be good for them and why they should care. Making more money for the company isn’t a winning motivation by itself. Nor is helping you succeed.
- Why should they care?
The Feedback Challenge
Feedback is too important to skip or rush. The team reveal can help you test and improve your vision. Remember, you’re meeting with humans who have unique perspectives, backgrounds, knowledge, and problem solving approaches. They see things differently than you do, and you need that. That’s why you hired them!
Your immediate supervisor needs to hear your vision directly from you, not from somebody they meet in the hallway.
What about the pitch itself?
Here are six steps Hyatt successfully used over his forty-plus years in business:
- Commit to success. Don’t make the pitch unless you intend to make the sale. Your credibility is at stake—with your boss, your peers, and your direct reports. The key here is to choose your battles and prepare thoroughly.
- Understand the customer. Before you schedule a time to pitch your proposal, answer the question, How is my Vision Script going to help my boss achieve their goals?
- Think through your presentation. The number one reason people don’t get to yes with their boss is because they haven’t done their homework. They simply haven’t thought through what and how to present their “ask.”
Some steps that can help here:
- Start with the conclusion. It is much easier for your boss to concentrate if they know what you want upfront. This keeps them from wondering where you’re going with your presentation.
- Provide the background. Be brief. Provide only the background necessary for them to make an intelligent decision. A paragraph is sufficient. Stay focused and keep moving.
- Provide the rationale. List three to five key reasons why your boss should accept your recommendation. This should include both why they should approve it as well as the consequences of not approving it.
- Establish a timetable. Indicate when you will implement the proposal if approved. If the rollout will be done in segments or phases, briefly outline the key milestones. Underpromise and overdeliver on your expected delivery dates.
- State the financial impact. State this both as the cost or necessary investment and the return on investment. Be clear. Shoot straight. Don’t downplay the costs or hype the benefits.
- Anticipate objections. This is where the battle is won or lost. Unfortunately, it’s a step that most people skip to their own detriment. Spending thirty minutes working on this aspect of your proposal is the best investment you could make in securing a sign-off. Think of every question or objection your boss could possibly ask. Your work in Step 3 will make this easy.
- Make the pitch. When you get to the end of your presentation, restate your recommendation and ask for a decision. This isn’t purely informational. Ask for the yes you want. Then, and this is critical, shut up. Give your boss a chance to say yes.
- Know when you are done. If your boss approves your recommendation, say thank you and that’s all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a person in authority give their approval and then watch the presenter proceed to unsell the sale. So when the boss says yes, thank them for their decision to pursue your vision, collect your belongings, and leave the room. If you can’t leave, at least change the subject. Don’t reopen a successfully closed chapter.
When selling your vision to peers and colleagues in the organization, do so privately and in advance of selling it down the chain. Actively listen and talk through any questions or concerns they may have. This gives you a golden opportunity to gauge their reaction and satisfy any apprehension they may have. You may also at this point gain insights that will help you sell it down the chain—and even further refine the vision.
Begin by creating a list of influential stakeholders, determine who you will contact first, and then quietly make visits or calls before the wider rollout. This includes divisional or department leaders, anyone with supervisory responsibility. Be sure to give your key leaders time to process the change you’re calling for, provide input, and work toward alignment.
People in your organization will lose sight of the vision you communicated days, weeks, or months ago. No one retains it all. Constant communication helps people hold on to what matters most.
Communication around the vision is a critical factor in team alignment around your Vision Script. And team alignment is a critical factor in hitting organizational goals. Since vision leakage is a reality, the only thing keeping your vision alive is your words. Just as you have to continually water a plant so that it can grow and thrive, you, as a leader, will sustain the growth and vitality of your organization by repeating the vision over and over again.
These five steps are still applicable today for any leader pushing through a major organizational change:
- Figure out what you want to say.
- Once you’ve decided on the message, write it down.
- Contact influential external stakeholders.
- Announce the change through the press and social media.
- Make yourself available to answer questions.
Respect the Past
Hyatt talks about some excellent advice he got when he stepped into the role of CEO at Thomas Nelson: “Always respect the past because anything that’s currently in place was established as a solution to a worse problem.”
It’s better to say, “What we’ve been doing up to this point has worked. I’m just wondering if there’s another solution out there where we can take it a step further—just like you did the last time when you brought in this solution.”
How Should You Face Resistance?
As you prepare yourself to share your Vision Script with your organization, expect internal resistance to your vision.
When you work and play at the edge of your abilities, it’s easy to feel that. At the same time, working and playing at the edge of one’s abilities is exactly why most of the people with their hands raised are also successful leaders.
Three Traits That Beat the Resistance
Hyatt have identified three essential traits you can leverage when the resistance threatens to thwart your vision:
- Tenacity in the face of rejection.
- Integrity when tested by ethical compromise.
- Courage in the face of settling for less than success.
Is It Too Late?
Regardless of your current position, your company can deploy the Vision change to extend its vitality and profitability. It’s never too late to get started with a revised vision.
The author further provides examples of how different companies changed their vision and what impact it had on the outcome. Examples in the book include AirBnb, YouTube, Instagram, Starbucks, JVC, Netflix, Apple and more.
Are You Ready?
Five steps to succeed in developing and delivering a Vision Script that will define your future:
- Schedule it.
- Get the necessary input.
- Trust the process.
- Tweak as you go.
- Go ahead and launch.