The Strategic Vision



Is it really clear to you why your organization exists? Do you get up in the morning with the feeling that you are doing something that is in line with your values and that is useful for your entourage, your loved ones?

I have often deplored in the past that many companies no longer know why they exist. They take the form of a vehicle that drives without a precise goal, as long as it can bring a dividend to shareholders. Yet studies tend to show that companies with clear and inspiring visions perform better and have more engaged employees. And, from experience, it is much easier to develop a clear strategic plan around an inspiring vision!

To explain the importance of a strategic vision, let’s use a little analogy. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who runs a small business that has experienced great growth and sells a flagship product: a croissant. Like many organizations, yours is doing well, but slowly you feel that the growth is slowing down and your team is questioning your longer-term strategy. Indeed, your vision developed in 2010, which was “to offer a quality croissant that will bring a return on investment to shareholders”, no longer seems adapted to this new era. You need to make a new turn and you embark on a strategic reflection.

After an exhaustive market analysis, a consultant comes back to you with three plausible vision statements for 2030:

  • Offer the world’s freshest croissant
  • Offer the world’s greenest croissant
  • Offer the world’s most affordable croissant

These vision statements are very ambitious. You need to choose carefully, as it will have a profound impact on your strategies, business model and processes for the next decade. All departments will have to adjust their approach and discourse. Employees will have to adapt, and you’ll have to accept that some will jump ship because of a lack of alignment with their own values.

For the sake of the example, let’s sketch a rough picture of where these three visions might take your organization.

The freshest croissant

If your vision is to offer the freshest croissant in the world, this means that in terms of your business model, you must opt for shorter supply and distribution channels, even if it means limiting the number of suppliers and points of sale, increasing the quality of your ingredients, opening several smaller factories close to the distribution channels, and accepting to sell a croissant at a higher price than the market. At the same time, turn your back on your current customer base for the long-term viability of the organization.

The most ecological croissant

If you choose the second option, to offer the greenest croissant, you will have to rethink your entire process and most likely your facilities. What is the ecological footprint of your ingredients? Your packaging? Transportation? From the factory? Of your suppliers? As Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, has done and described, putting some or all of sustainability forward will also impact not only your entire value chain, but also your marketing positioning and how you allocate revenue. Indeed, Chouinard explains in his book, “Let My People Go Surfing,” that he donates up to 10% of his revenue to causes that support his values.

The most accessible croissant

If you choose the third option, as opposed to the first two, you will probably try to reduce your manufacturing and distribution costs, thus lowering the selling price of your product. You will try to review certain ingredients and renegotiate your agreements with your suppliers, in addition to expanding your distribution network to increase the number of points of sale. With this in mind, your company will probably focus more on volume than quality and aim for a higher selling price and a longer product life.

Revisit your strategic vision

Of course, your organization is much more complex and brings more than one product or service to market. Regardless, this example supports the idea that a vision :

  • Helps you better plan your strategies;
  • Clarifies your key business objectives and performance indicators;
  • Has an impact on your business model and processes;
  • Dictates your organizational values and brand positioning;
  • Clarifies expectations for your team, regardless of level;
  • Sends a clear message to all your stakeholders.

So, if you feel that you are struggling with some of the above points, you may be ready to revisit your vision and question your purpose.

For those of you who are wondering how often to review a vision, the answer is that there really is no date. Some visions may last 5 years, others 20 years. It depends on many factors, such as changes in the senior management team, or the competition or the market. That said, in my humble opinion, a vision should be reviewed every 5 to 10 years.

The 5 Bold Steps Vision Canvas

Over the past few years, I have been involved in helping clients review their vision. Without elaborating on the complete methodology, one tool is essential: the 5 Bold Steps Vision Canvas, created by the American firm The Grove Consultant and used in several publications on strategy and design.

Workshops on this canvas should be conducted with your board of directors and management team. If you are not part of these two groups, but manage a department within your firm, this tool can also be used to align your department’s vision and your team’s shared values with that of the organization.

If you have any questions on how to use this tool, please write me, I will be happy to answer them.

Arnaud Montpetit
Vice-President, Strategy