You know where you're headed... but does your team?

As a small business owner, it's natural that you'll be the most committed person to realising your vision. However, your team is a powerful force you can harness to work towards your goal with you. To enable that to happen, they need to be clear what your vision is.

A vision is a big, audacious promise of what you plan to achieve

A vision isn’t a practical strategy or even a business plan. It’s bold, aspirational and inspirational. A purpose, plan or strategy can and should underpin a vision and help it come to life.

Two well-regarded mission statements come from retail giants Costco and customer service-focused Southwest Airlines. Costco’s mission statement is, “To continually provide our members with quality goods and services at the lowest possible prices.” Southwest Airlines state, “Our vision is to become the world’s most loved, most flown and most profitable airline.” Ask a team member from either company what the vision is and chances are they’ll repeat it word for word.

What these two successful brands do well is not just create a mission statement or a vision, but ensure it's regularly revisited and that everyone on the team understands its importance. That means when they make decisions, they use the vision as justification and rationale. They validate their decisions against what the greater goal is – so every micro choice leads to a bigger impact and a shared delivery of achievement.

Successful vision-sharing isn’t exclusive to big business. Amanda Gower founded her personal training business Moon and Back Personal Training with a huge goal: to rally people to log the kilometres they walked, swam, cycled or ran over the course of a year with the aim of travelling to the 'moon and back.’ The idea was spawned after Gower tragically lost her mother, a big-hearted woman who often said, “I love you to the moon and back.” In her honour, Gower got busy.

“I wanted to promote the physical and psychological benefits of regular exercise after my mum lost her life suddenly to heart disease at age 56,” she explains. “My mission was to raise awareness of heart disease in women but also to help reduce the incidence of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, renal diseases and cancers.”

Her story spread quickly via media and word of mouth and within a year, Gower’s team had managed to walk a third of the way to the moon – more than she had realistically dreamed of when she set and shared her lofty goal. She explains that she got her desired response – seeing others make a regular and healthy change to their lifestyles. “Emotion can play a large role in your mindset,” she says. “When you find a connection with someone it can often help give you a reason to stay motivated.”

Whether you write it on a poster and stick it to the wall, add it to your email signature, include it on presentations or just regularly talk about it and how you’re adhering to it, you need to share your vision openly and enthusiastically with your team. They can’t kick goals if they don’t know where or what the goalposts are. Having exposure via your customers is useful too - they can assist you by rallying to your cause and may just want to be part of your brand experience based on what you're aiming to do.

Amanda Gower's Moon and Back Personal Training

Bringing a vision to life via content and storytelling

While running the 'Moon and Back' campaign, Gower posted supportive updates via social media and emails, updating everyone as to the distance travelled. Participants were inspired by breakout stories, including Gower’s personal favourite: “A woman who had fallen pregnant after previous complications. She was positive it was because she was living a much more active lifestyle.”

Southwest Airlines share their updates too, via video packages, company newsletters and in their in-flight magazine. The original founder Herb Kelleher says that while a competitor can match you in physical things, “The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty – the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”

Sharing the wins will reinforce the vision, too. Acknowledging how it's being executed well (and practically) is a strong way of bringing your vision to life. But it's also important to give credit to your team, customer or even the business as a whole. You don’t need to become a video editing wizard and create packages like Southwest Airlines. Simply acknowledging them verbally at the start or end of a week is a powerful way to recognise support. You may also forge an emotional connection to the brand that's unbeatable.

Creating a sustainable success ecosystem

Kelleher claims the methodology of success when it comes to achieving your vision is ultimately simple – treat your team well and they’ll be happy. Because they’re happy, they’ll perform and deliver great results for the customer. The customer will be so happy, they’ll come back – creating a self-sustaining ecosystem of success.

Gower experienced this first hand. By the end of her 12-month 'Moon and Back' campaign, she found herself with a large base of highly motivated supporters – and a new career. She established a personal training company named in honour of the original vision. “It’s a daily reminder of why I began this journey,” she explains. “My goal now is to continue to help people to enjoy regular exercise and have a better quality of life.” Her passion for change and clear communication about her intentions are still paying off, with 95% of her clients signing up for repeat business.

“We often say the most important pitch is to your team,” explains Melissa Morris, Senior PR and Communications Manager of social enterprise organisation Thankyou. “It’s really important to get buy-in from your team on any project.”

Creating a public version of your personal goals

While being open about your vision will help you rally your team and clients to your cause, there are areas where you can overstep. If your vision is quite specific or personal, you may want to consider creating a ‘public facing’ version. You also may not feel comfortable sharing specific financial wins and challenges with the team. There are ways of engaging them without over-sharing – check in with a trusted team member if you’re unsure about the need to open up, and weigh up your personal preferences too.

Maintaining momentum

While your vision should be lofty and ambitious, the framework to support it should be grounded in practicalities. Creating a plan with achievable goals that can be ticked off and celebrated will help sustain momentum, as will a rewards and incentives program. Don’t underestimate the power of a thank you and appreciation for a job well done.

Thankyou Co-founder Daniel Flynn

Thankyou founder: Daniel Flynn

Thankyou is a social enterprise organisation spawned by co-founder Daniel Flynn’s idea to eliminate global poverty. He rallied people to his cause via the media, social channels, a self-published book and more. Thankyou continues to harness customer support by providing a ‘track your impact’ code on every item sold, ensuring they go from being an invested customer to a validated advocate. When it comes to sharing a vision and getting customers and an internal team to buy in, few do it better than Flynn.

“We have recently refined our vision [to allow for the change and growth we have experienced since we launched 9 years ago] and here it is: To empower everyday people to actively end global poverty. We have all been working to a shared goal but until recently, we actually hadn’t properly articulated our vision which seems crazy for a social enterprise. 

"As we have got bigger, I’ve had people comment that we have been incredibly bold and confident in sharing our vision but for us, it was always the plan. It’s kept us accountable and honest. [Note: In eight years, the company has given over $5.5 million to people in need.]

"Visions can be lofty and grand but having core values that underpin them will give your vision structure and allow it to be executed. We have a number of values that we refer back to when we need clarity around a decision or to see if it really helps us realise our vision. There have been times along the way – particularly early on – where we could have made a decision that would have spoken to our vision but which went against one of our values. It’s imperative the two are aligned so the values are a strong foundation, otherwise your vision can be misinterpreted.

"Recently, an independent study found that 56% of customers who use our products didn’t even know about the cause. I was shocked – all this marketing and sharing we are doing and we’re not reaching so many of our customers! Then I realised something else, that the product and quality of what we do is strongly supporting the vision we have established. There’s a sign up on our wall – I’m looking at it now. Rule One: Make great product. Rule Two: Never break Rule One.”

"You can have a grand vision but it is imperative you deliver on it to get people to buy into your cause. You should never use a good cause to sell an average product. We have been so focused on that and getting people to love the product – it isn’t good enough to assume people will simply buy in to our vision and stay committed. It’s a big vision and there are times it can overwhelm me but most of the time I am inspired by the changes we are making and I do believe we can help people change the world.”