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    Setting a Vision and Staying the Course

    By: Jeff Gau
    May 24, 2012

    In the truest sense, vision is defined by the ability to see. But in business, vision is believing what you cannot see will come to be. The uncertainty with vision means it usually includes a significant upfront investment before ever realizing the intended outcome. This element of risk usually precludes leadership from staying the course, which is why I wanted to answer this question from Kurt:

    “When outlining a long-term vision and goals for the organization, how do you stay committed to a course, or decide when it’s time to change course?

    For Marco, most of the long-term strategies that align with our vision are no longer than three years, and certainly do not extend beyond five years. That’s as far out as I think we can successfully forecast and effectively predict our business outcomes.

    Several years ago, we made a decision to organically expand our document solutions business by introducing managed services and production print – both front-end cost loaded endeavors that few dealers have effectively implemented - even today. When done correctly, we saw the move as an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from the market and position us for future growth.

    Like any big-vision initiative, the costs stacked up well before the revenue. We faced upfront costs for personnel, vendor commitments, training and marketing, to name a few. We just recently started to realize the ROI, which has been a big contributor to our strong financial performance. So, how and why did we stay the course? Here’s a look at what we do:

    · Set realistic expectations about the ROI timeline. 
    Money often drives decision making. It can be tempting for leadership to pull out early because the vision is not delivering the dollars in the short-term. In many cases, leaders can look to their industry for setting an ROI timeline that's more realistic. In our industry, a successful ROI is three years – we set our standards as a company as three to five. By establishing a timeline upfront, leaders can prepare financially – and psychologically – to stay the course.

    · Track progress consistently.
    This does not mean the vision has to necessarily be achieving desired sales and profit goals. Whether it’s a strategy for acquisitions in new markets or the launch of a new product or service, it takes time to make money on a long-term vision. But every month, it’s important to review the operating results in detail and make sure some progress is being made. An example at Marco is our daily tracking of new managed services contracts and analyzed revenue projections.

    · Get the right people behind it.
    When trying something new in business, it’s critical to have the right people leading the charge. I realize this is a motherhood statement, but it continues to be validated with every new initiative we succeed or fail at. Because these usually involve emerging technologies and there are few experts to take the lead, we typically select someone internally that has a passion for that vision. Although they may not immediately possess the skills necessary to perform right away, they do need to wake up every morning thinking about it and be incentivized based on the financial performance. 

    · Trust your instincts.
    In addition to having a strong sense for business and financial performance, it’s also a good practice to trust your own instincts. In my experience, you know when it’s working and when it’s not. A few years ago, we began aligning our company with Microsoft to deliver voice solutions. Because Microsoft is a strong player in the technology market and one of our key suppliers, it seemed like a smart move. But less than a year into the partnership we realized that Cisco was going to be a better fit based on our business model and decided not to stay the course with Microsoft. So, we transitioned to Cisco’s unified communication solutions and it has proven to be a game changer for us.

    Because vision is a long-term objective, make a commitment to stay the course; but do trust your instincts and be prepared to make the appropriate changes to get the desired results.  

    Topics: Goals, Vision
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