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Elements of a Purposeful Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

Ideally, your company needs to know why it exists, where it is aiming toward, and how it is going to get there. Then, it needs every employee to actively participate in getting the company there.

Tall order.

Finding a company’s reason for existence becomes complicated if the company was founded 50+ years ago. However, finding a well formulated reason for existence among startups is also rare. All businesses have one thing in common, they try to make money now and in the future. If they don’t do that, there will be no company. Making money is obviously not the only reason for a company to exist, since it is a common denominator, people look for companies that have a purpose far beyond making money. Even for the individual, earning money is a qualifying criteria for getting on board. So we will limit the discussion about the influence of money. Back to finding purpose. Viktor Frankl showed that meaning can be found even in suffering, and quotes Nietzsche – “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”. Meaning can also be found in solving problems, think of Elon Musk trying to solve problems we did not even know we had – building the capacity to become an inter-planetary civilization, solving the energy problem, even solving traffic delays. Meaning can also be found in alleviating the suffering of others – Mother Theresa’s life surely had meaning.

For organisations, finding a purpose gives meaning to operations. A well formulated vision incorporates a company’s purpose and gives a sense of what the future state should look like. Having a broad vision statement, like “we aim to serve”, is not something achievable, nor is it significantly different to the current state. It might be that people are already “serving”, in that case people simply lose hope that the vision is tenable. Once employees lose hope that their involvement in a company has any meaning, they revert back to the qualifying reasons for being involved – money.

A well formulated purposeful vision should also be achievable at high and low levels of analysis. This is probably the most difficult part to get right. If a vision is only achievable at the end state, like “We aim to be the largest roasted coffee supplier in Africa”, it implies that there is no reward on the road to that goal. It states indirectly that “we achieve nothing until we achieve everything”. This can also be demotivating, not only for the employees, but for the executives also. It might be the case that the quickest fix is to have an evolving vision, to make the vision appropriate for lower levels of analysis. For example, “We want to be the largest roasted coffee supplier in Gauteng”. This, however comes with its own problems – what happens when the vision is achieved and it’s time for a new one? How quickly does the vision become loose goals without a central purpose? The first question employees ask is why. Why do we want to be the largest supplier in Africa? If the answer is due to revenue or profitability, it loses value.

Developing a purposeful vision can become complicated, to keep it simple a vision should:

  1. Explain purpose – which is never about money
  2. Be achievable in the short and long term – but never fully

At Favour & Grace, our vision has morphed significantly in the founding stages. It took us a while to understand why we are in business and how we are going to orientate ourselves to align to our purpose. Here is our vision: “Transform organisational culture into kingdom culture”