The clients I coach often ask me to describe the difference between vision, mission, purpose, mantra, positioning statements and BHAGs. There’s a lot of overlap in these words and different people use them differently; however, I centre my clients on two concepts to keep them focused on an action-oriented strategy – vision and brand promise. Developing an enduring vision alongside an engaging brand promise helps entrepreneurs and executives clearly determine their strategic goals, create a results-driven plan to achieve their goals and establish a fully aligned and coordinated organization that knows exactly what it needs to do to meet un-met, or under-met needs in the market. Additionally, a clear vision coupled with an entrenched brand promise sets the foundation, and in fact a benchmark, for everything a company must do in regards to the products and/or services it delivers to clients.

Defining vision

There is a lot of information available on how to build a lasting vision but essentially your vision is where you aspire to take your company in the future. An enduring vision is supported by your:

  • Purpose – also referred to by many as a “mission”; and
  • BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), which was introduced into business strategy by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, Built to Last and How the Mighty Fall.

Jim has studied companies extensively and has considerable insight on what companies need to do to achieve and sustain superior performance, and as a result, I encourage my clients to learn and instill many of his principles in their own businesses.

Defining brand promise

The concept of brand promise is where I will focus on more in depth in Part II because I continue to be surprised by the rudimentary definitions of brand promise shared online and in business. Let’s start with what a brand promise doesn’t mean. A brand promise is not a tagline telling customers what they should expect from your business. This is instead a positioning statement and while this statement is important in engaging customers to do business with your company, make no mistake, it is not a brand promise.

A brand promise is an internal strategy focused on two to three non-negotiable things (pillars) that you stand for that fit with who you are and what you do to serve unmet, or under-met, needs in the market.

These two to three pillars of your brand promise must be quantifiable so you know without a doubt whether or not you are actually staying true to your brand promise. Embedding measurable pillars as part of your brand promise also provides a filter against which everything you do internally can be judged by, for example, acquisitions or product and service development.

Once you have developed your internal strategy based on two to three measurable pillars, you then align your systems and processes to deliver on your brand promise. And once your systems are in place, then and only then, do you come up with your positioning statement for customers and prospects.

I have worked with clients around the world, helping them create brand promises that have absolutely redefined their companies and go-to-market approaches. Through this work, which is inspired by the concepts and practices in Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, my clients have unquestionably driven more business than their competition, reinforcing that a brand promise is far more than a tagline.

The basics of vision

In their Harvard Business Review article entitled Building Your Company’s Vision, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras shared the following:

Many executives thrash about with mission statements and vision statements. Unfortunately, most of those statements turn out to be a muddled stew of values, goals, purposes, philosophies, beliefs, aspirations, norms, strategies, practices, and descriptions. They are usually a boring, confusing, structurally unsound stream of words that evoke the response “True, but who cares?” Even more problematic, seldom do these statements have a direct link to the fundamental dynamic of visionary companies: preserve the core and stimulate progress. That dynamic, not vision or mission statements, is the primary engine of enduring companies. Vision simply provides the context for bringing this dynamic to life. Building a visionary company requires 1% vision and 99% alignment. When you have superb alignment, a visitor could drop in from outer space and infer your vision from the operations and activities of the company without ever reading it on paper or meeting a single senior executive.

This is a perfect synopsis of the challenge facing executives and also why creating a vision through these two steps is critical for executives.

Step 1 – Uncover your purpose

The first step is to uncover your company’s purpose. Very simply, this is the difference you want to make on the planet through your business.

  • Why did you start this business in the first place (aside from making money)?
  • What is your passion and how are you making a difference for your customers?
  • What is the legacy you want this business to leave behind?

Your purpose is the lifeblood of the organization; it is what motivates employees, attracts customers and keeps your team focused on achieving success.

For example, Coastal Contacts, co-founded by president and CEO, Roger Hardy, is the worlds’ largest online retailer of vision care products. Through its website, Coastal Contacts sells brand name contact lenses and eyeglasses combining outstanding value, quality and convenience. After working for a contact lens manufacturer, Hardy realized that contacts had incredible mark ups and didn’t agree with customers being taken advantage of; as a result, Coastal Contacts’ purpose was born, which is “saving the world from overpriced vision care.”

Another great example is Amazon, which is well-known for selling books online, and yet when you examine the company’s purpose, “books” does not even appear in the positioning statement: Amazon.com, Inc. seeks to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

The BMW Group with its portfolio of unmistakable brands, including BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has a clear purpose, which is to provide automobiles and motorcycles that fascinate people all over the world and which win legions of new admirers every day.

Coach Kevin’s tips for precision performance

Do you have a clear purpose? Ask your employees to articulate it? Ask your customers and partners to articulate it? If no one can clearly state your purpose, it’s time to either go back to the drawing board and create one or ensure your purpose is well defined, understood and communicated.

Step 2 – Create your Big Hairy Audacious Goal

The next step is to create your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal): This goal is exactly as the name suggests – it is big and visionary (this is typically a 10 to 25 year goal); it is daring (people will compelled and your competitors will be envious); and it is daunting – this is no ordinary goal, but a complex and seemingly unattainable goal, yet one that is potentially lucrative and rewarding with the potential to revolutionize business markets.  Importantly, your BHAG must support your purpose. In fact, it is a tangible achievement on the path to your purpose, which will require your team to think big, be innovative and move quickly.

Most companies have a big hairy audacious goal and in fact many centre their goals on a financial target, for example, to be a $100 million or $1 billion organization. Another popular BHAG is based on becoming the dominant company in terms of market share in the industry. There are also companies with a unique and inspiring BHAG like one of my clients in the fresh food business, which has a BHAG to sell a number of pound of fresh product per person per year in every country they operate.

I encourage my clients to develop and articulate their BHAG in a way that engages and galvanizes the workforce. I’m not surprised that I hear “I want to build a $100 million (or $1 billion) company,” all the time. It’s just that not everyone in the organization will necessarily rally around an ambitious financial goal.

Coach Kevin’s tips for precision performance

Do you have a BHAG? If not, why not? Assuming you have a clear purpose, what will absolutely showcase to the market that your company is driving towards its purpose?  Think big and conceptualize a daring goal. Do a litmus test – does it motivate, inspire and excite you? Does it scare you?

In Part II, coming soon, I will review the basics of brand promise. Stay tuned.

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Kevin Lawrence is a strategic advisor and coach to CEOs and executive teams across North America and internationally. Driven by a relentless passion for helping business leaders get what they really want, in business and life, Kevin has coached clients across a wide range of industries, including consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, luxury retail, media, automotive and professional services. He deeply believes that CEOs and entrepreneurs can have tremendous business success along with an enriching, adventurous and fulfilling lifestyle, taking their professional and personal accomplishments to an entirely new level.

For more than a decade, Kevin has helped clients overcome major obstacles, deal with tough decisions and capitalize on new opportunities to generate breakthrough results. Clients often turn to Kevin when they are faced with a frustrating and challenging issue, which causes them to seriously look at making a big change, quickly. His methods, style and savvy approach have helped his clients expand into new markets, build high performance leadership teams, attract profitable clients, improve productivity, and increase revenue and profitability. Also, with Kevin as their advisor, clients reduce their stress and hours worked so they have more time and energy to live their personal version of an outrageous quality of life. For more information, visit www.CoachKevin.com or call 1-877-564-6224

Copyright 2010, SGI Synergy Group Inc. & Kevin Lawrence

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