No clear vision or direction - only dreams

November 01, 2012

Walt Disney said: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

History books record that Walt Disney had a dream. Yet a dream is defined as a “wild or vain fancy”. We think it is more accurate to say Walt Disney had a vision. Visioning is “conceiving with foresight” or seeing something that doesn't yet exist ‑ and by all accounts Walt Disney clearly saw what he subsequently achieved.

As a successful entrepreneur, you too are more of a visionary than a dreamer. You are likely considered “a person of unusually keen foresight” as opposed to someone who relies on hope and “airy theories”. Unlike the dreamer who has an idea but fails to follow through on it, you saw the future that an opportunity could provide and pursued it. Your vision provided a clear target for your drive and ambition. It gave you a focus when faced with negativity, fear, or major setbacks.

As you plan for the eventual exit from your business, it is important to reconsider what the future holds for your family and your business. Do you have a new vision? If so, what do you see? Have you shared that vision with your family? Do you have a clear direction or map to get there?

We continue the examination of The Seven Complexities of a Business Transition with a look at how to address the challenges arising from Complexity #4 ‑ No clear vision or direction, only dreams.

Why is a clear vision and direction important?

Study after study highlights the importance of developing a formal plan for the future — a plan that lays out a destination that is both concrete and achievable. Planning for the transition of your business is no exception. That plan begins with a clear vision.

This is where true visionaries excel. While satisfied with their current achievements, visionaries see the opportunity for a bigger future — a future that will have a positive impact on all those who contribute: family members, employees, customers and even suppliers.

“There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future, widely shared.”

Bob Nanus

However, this clear vision needs to become a shared look at the future. It needs to become an image that the next generation can confidently buy into because they too were allowed to “see” and contribute to its creation. It becomes the glue that binds both generations together in pursuit of a common goal, and consequently forms the foundation of a formal plan for the future direction of the business.

Authors Nanus and Dobbs portray an enduring organization as one with leaders who can anticipate and create the future instead of reacting and adapting to change. Engaging others in the development of the vision is paramount to building these future leaders.

Articulating Your Vision

More often than not, our vision — what we see in our mind's eye — is a manifestation of our core principles and how we see the future unfolding. You could say that it is the coming together of past, present and future as one entity.

It is this coming together of past, present and future that is the basis of The SuccessChartTM ‑ our approach to helping you articulate your vision.

Through The SuccessChartTM you are able to examine your past challenges and successes to uncover your guiding principles. You will also identify those behaviour patterns, life experiences, family traits, key attitudes and family traditions that have shaped your business throughout its history.

From a review of each decade, you will undoubtedly discover that your keystones are a compilation of:

  • Your own value system;
  • Lessons derived from the impact of major external factors;
  • The development of key intellectual and social capital.

This knowledge and understanding of the past and present culture enhances your ability to see and articulate the building blocks and opportunities for the future. The SuccessChartTM then takes you through an examination of different scenarios, resulting in an increased awareness around what your true vision is for your family and business. Ultimately, this process gives you the confidence to move forward.

The next step is to communicate that vision and afford the other stakeholders the opportunity to identify with you.

Sharing the Vision

Thom Penmaen would ultimately love to see his business pass to the next generation, but it's not likely to happen if the kids don't endorse Thom's vision for the future.

A case in point is Thom's current goal to expand operations into Europe and Mexico. He is excited about this direction and in a hurry to get the project underway because, at age 65, he “might run out of time and energy”.

Unfortunately for Thom, there is some major opposition to the plan from certain members of the family who are convinced that Thom has not considered all the risks.

The problem is rooted in the lack of a clear, shared vision or direction for the business. Yes, Thom has his dream of expansion, but until that dream is articulated as a vision that has purpose and is seen to be achievable, until it is communicated as a plan to build a bigger future, it will fail to inspire or garner support.

Expecting others to buy into your vision before they have a complete understanding of what it means to you (or what's in it for them) is like recommending they eat the food you set in front of them without telling them what it is — it only works when they are little kids!

This story can have a happy ending. If involved in a review of the family and business history, principles, successes, challenges, traditions etc., the rest of the team will be in a much better position to understand the passion and purpose behind that vision. Together they can participate in a discussion around opportunities for the family to contribute and mitigate the perceived risk from Thom's age.

So if appropriately shared with the other stakeholders, your vision can become their vision.

This shared vision has the ability to inspire all those who are connected to the family business and become the group's common interest or “we focus”. It creates both purpose and commitment, and becomes the target of each stakeholder's energy and enthusiasm. It is a major contributor in building the trust, leadership, and stewardship that are vital to the successful transition of your business.

For more information on this process or any of the seven complexities you may face in preparing for the transition of your business, contact your personal BDO advisor, or call our Business Transition Services team at 1.800.598.6400.

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