May 24, 2013

To Build Shared Purpose in Your Firm, First, Share Your Vision

Over the past couple of years, I’ve frequently written about the importance of adequately preparing advisory firm employees to be great employees. The foundation of our “preparation” is a three-part process in which we teach each new employee about the “Vision Statement,” “the Core Purpose,” and the “Core Values” of their new firm. The most important of these three is the Vision Statement. 

Owner-advisors often confuse a “vision statement” with a “mission statement.” A mission statement is simply a description of what a firm is going to do for their clients, which we cover in our “Core Purpose (along with why a firm provides the services it does). In contrast, a company vision statement is a reflection of a company’s overall goal. Vision statements have the potential to be very powerful communications to both owners and employees.

A good vision statement paints a clear picture for the future of the business, which creates a sense of shared purpose, a desire for achievement, and builds a team commitment to reaching that vision. And vision statements can change from time to time—when the old goals have been reached or the firm takes a new direction—where its “core purpose” and “core values” typically reflect the way that vision will be accomplished in the most productive way, which rarely changes. 

Here’s an example of how an effective vision statement would read:

“Within the next X year(s), we strive to grow (Company Name), a financial services company, by producing $ in gross annual revenue by providing (Description of Products and Services), to (Description of Target Client), utilizing Y Certified Financial Planners® and Z support staff.”

Note how specific the vision statement is, particularly the goals. This is very important. It clearly establishes in the mind of every employee and firm owner exactly what they are all working together to achieve: the amount of revenue growth, within a stated timeframe.

If you’re like many of my clients—particularly owner-advisors—you’re probably feeling a bit uncomfortable at this point. That’s human nature. We find that many firm owners resist putting the dollar number on their goals, especially if those goals are going to be shared with others. It feels like we’re setting ourselves up for failure, and/or revealing that we’re overly materialistic or even greedy. Or they might feel it sends the wrong message: After all, most owner-advisors didn’t launch their own firms just for the money. 

That’s why it’s important to remember that the vision statement isn’t a commitment: it’s a road map. As I said, the details of a firm’s vision statement can change over time: with the stated revenue goal, time frame and staffing adjusted upward or downward, as changing circumstances require. But the simple act of stating the firm goal in clear terms—X revenues by Y date—is by far the best way we’ve found to communicate to employees what they should be working toward: It gives them that “Aha!” moment, as the light bulb goes on illuminating exactly what the whole team is trying to do. 

Over the years, I have found that owner/advisors have a really hard-time formulating their company vision statement. The unfortunate part is, no spouse or employee or friend or therapist or even consultant can create your company vision for you. As leaders of your company, this is the one thing you simply have to do yourself. But it is easier if you have a starting point, instead of a blank sheet of paper. If you want a helpful starting point, you can download a free “Vision and Goals” worksheet by visiting my website.

I use this worksheet with clients in our workshops, and perhaps it will help you get off on the right foot.

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