From the October 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Vision and Execution

Albert Einstein once famously said, "Vision without execution is hallucination." It's equally true, however, that "Execution without vision is chaos." These principles are two sides of the same coin -- like yin and yang -- and necessarily belong together, since having one without the other renders both unusable. Alternatively, combining a powerful vision with strong execution creates an unstoppable force for achieving your desired outcomes, including building a great business as a financial advisor.

Create, Communicate, ActEvery business leader and entrepreneur must create a compelling vision to drive his or her organization and bring coherence to those who work for it. Consider, for example, the consistent research showing that when good workers leave their jobs, they list compensation as being only the third or fourth most important factor. Instead, what drives away workers is either a sense of not fitting into the organization's big picture or feeling underappreciated. A powerful vision goes a long way toward increasing workers' understanding of what they're doing and why it's important, thereby addressing both of these factors.

But creating a great vision is not enough. You, as the leader, must also be able to effectively communicate that vision to everyone you work with. So, if you have a great vision but can't communicate it in a manner that people understand -- in a manner that focuses and motivates them -- it's barely a step up from having no vision at all.

Once you have created and communicated your vision, you need to coherently act your part. If your actions are incoherent with your vision -- if you ignore it or contradict it in how you actually do things -- then you've shot yourself in the foot. Everyone will see that you aren't living up to your own vision, and then sure enough they won't live up to it either. "Why should I have to be held to a standard that the boss isn't held to?"

The Mechanics of CreationTo create a compelling vision, start by arranging some time alone. Then take out a fresh piece of paper, and begin asking yourself a series of questions that you write down the answers to. (Actually writing things down seems to have more impact for many people than typing things on a computer screen, perhaps because you're actually making a mark in the world.)

The first question is, "Why am I in this business?" Go beyond pat answers such as "I like helping other people." Instead, consider your long-term goals, your desired payoff, and your specific emotional tie-in to the business. In other words, what about the business really satisfies or excites you?

The second question is, "Why do I want to do this?" What do you hope to accomplish by being in the business? Put differently, you want to identify the highest purpose for doing what you're doing. As with all these questions, drill down past simple answers like "I want to make money" and get to the personal and emotional level. Just as when you press clients with further (or "second order") questions to understand what's really important to them, make sure you keep asking "why?" questions until you get down to the inner core of what you're really about here.

For example, suppose your first response to the second question is "Because I have a family, and want to put bread on the table." Now ask yourself "why?" again. You might respond, "Because I enjoy the interaction with my clients that allows me to put bread on the table." Then ask "why?" again. "I enjoy the interaction with my clients because I believe helping people achieve a secure financial future is a critical role in American society." Asking "why?" one last time to take it even deeper, you might respond, "Because I feel fulfilled when my clients have a better life."

The third question is "What is unique about a future that I would invent for myself?" What distinct legacy do you want to leave behind? What unique qualities about your business would make you and others who work with you be proud to be associated with it?

The fourth question is "What is the common purpose that we seek to achieve together in this business?" Similar to the second question, here you look at things from the perspective of your partners, team members and other staff. That is, organizationally, what are you hoping to accomplish?

The fifth question is "What are the goals that I see my business achieving?" This question is oriented towards actual, real-world, measurable results and impacts. Unless you have a clear understanding of these goals, it will be very difficult for you to know what to do in order to achieve them.

Sixth, ask yourself what symbols, metaphors or mental pictures most vividly represent your unique and ideal future. What you're trying to do here is to create an emotional lighthouse for your staff and give them the ability to envision the ideal future right alongside you. Sometimes, words alone just won't get the job done, so you're trying to provide a non-verbal symbol that captures your vision in a potent and easily communicated manner, something that people can identify with and quickly understand. Think of the Travelers insurance company's red umbrella logo or Prudential's Rock of Gibraltar logo.

Seventh and last, ask yourself "What ideal future do I envision for my business?" Allow yourself to dream big here. In the best of all possible worlds, if everything goes your way, what will your business look like one day, and when will that day be?

More than a Mission StatementOnce you've created your compelling vision, those working with and for you need to understand it. A vision is much more than a one-sentence positioning statement or mission statement, like "We help cardiologists in the Miami area achieve financial health." Instead, your vision will take up to a full page to describe. So after working through all seven questions, synthesize and write the whole thing out, making sure to include strong symbols and descriptions of what you and the business are aiming to achieve.

With a rough draft ready, it's time to get your staff's feedback and input. Certainly, you don't want to suddenly spring the full-blown vision statement on everyone all at once at a staff meeting. Indeed, you need your staff's buy-in ahead of time, so get your key staff members the rough draft and see if it resonates with them. Find out if it clearly communicates what you're trying to say, whether it clarifies what you're trying to do, and whether it is emotionally engaging.

Once you've received and integrated sufficient staff feedback, it's time to dress up your vision and print it out. (Make sure that at least one person with meticulous editing and proofreading skills gives it a very careful review.) Then put the vision in your employee manual and staff orientation materials, and make sure all new as well as existing staff have read it, understood it and mentally and emotionally believe in it.

Regularly refer back to your vision in staff reports and in whatever "dashboard" metrics you use. By constantly referring back to your compelling vision, you'll enable your staff to understand what's happening and why it's important, which will catalyze them to do an even better job in their own spheres of activity.

Walking Your TalkIf you make decisions or take actions that appear to contradict your vision, you must clearly explain why you've done so. This is the No. 1 area where staff members get confused, where their mental and emotional fabric gets torn to shreds.

For example, if part of your vision is to have minimums, and then two months later you take on a friend who clearly doesn't qualify, then your staff members will rightly be confounded. To avoid disappointed and disoriented staff, in this case you might explain, "I made this decision because I went to college with this fellow, he's terminally ill, and I want to be able to take care of his wife and children."

In our CEG Worldwide coaching programs, we regularly stress that if you want to be successful, then you need to be successful on purpose. Having a compelling vision, communicating it clearly, and then acting in concert with it -- and owning up to when you're making an exception -- is a huge step towards achieving such purposeful success.

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Patricia J. Abram is a senior managing partner with CEG Worldwide in Florida; see www.cegwordwide.com.

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