It's all about the vision

Understanding your passion is the key to successful strategic planning

There is an adage in the Quran that states, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there."

Do your customers know why you're in business? Do your employees? Do you? The easy answer is, "To make money!" Frankly, though, it's not always that simple.

Before you can answer these questions, you need to know your vision for your company and be able to express the passion you have for doing what you do every day that affects the lives of many people.

To develop a vision, you have to start somewhere, and strategic planning can help get you started.

The importance of a plan

Often, small-business owners do not take the time to set specific goals for the current year, much less the next five. Instead, they rely on gut instincts to get their companies through good and bad times.

When things are going well, a lack of a plan encourages a laissez-faire approach. But successful day-to-day management unwittingly can set the stage for being blindsided by either major or subtle changes in the marketplace.

Consider what you might do if you notice you're losing proposals to one of your competitors. Consider what you might do if you no longer can hire appropriate employees. Or consider what you might do if, because of higher interest rates, you no longer can borrow money and remain competitive.

Many times, a typical businessman would manage these situations as best as possible and relatively well. However, what happens if these situations don't improve? Many quick fixes are not sustainable. In fact, most decisions made in a pinch are less than optimal.

In any of these scenarios, thorough strategic planning, including developing vision and mission statements, likely would have surfaced the issues of new competition, work force shortages and interest rate pressures. Additionally, the process likely would have yielded strategies to address these pressures before they negatively had affected a company's ability to compete and, conversely, may even have had a positive effect.

Not every strategic-planning process yields an impenetrable barrier to the marketplace. However, it can help you position your company more favorably than your competitors, who likely are affected by similar conditions. Sometimes, that edge can make all the difference during crucial periods.

Vision and mission

What is a mission statement? In Business Plans Kit for Dummies, it says, "No matter what kind of business you're in, a solid mission statement communicates the purpose of your business to people inside and outside your organization … who you are and what you hope to achieve."

According to Jim Horan, author of The One Page Business Plan, "The mission statement describes the purpose for which your product, service or business exists … [it] also [is] about commitments and promises … [it] must reflect the owner's passion and commitment."

Interestingly, Horan adds that a mission statement must reflect the owner's passion, and it's this reflection of passion that needs exploring.

Horan continues: "Vision statements should be expansive and idealistic. They should stimulate thinking, communicate passion and paint a very graphic picture of the business you want."

A mission does not stand alone—it is based on a vision, which includes decisions regarding an organization's future and, importantly, recognition of the passion the owner has for the business. Vision statements, then, are unique and have a specific purpose.

A passionate vision

You must cast a vision if you want people to follow. There is no getting around it, and it is not always easy to identify. In fact, it's likely one of the more challenging tasks you can face.

Because many roofing companies are family-owned for multiple generations, constructing a vision presents a unique challenge to subsequent generations. The passion your father or grandfather had for starting the business may have sustained the company beautifully for decades, but what does that mean for you? Do you feel the same way your father felt? Possibly, but you'd still be operating according to his vision, not yours.

According to Warren Bennis, who is considered the authoritative voice regarding leadership, " … all [successful] leaders have [some] essential competencies. First, they are able to engage others by creating shared meaning. They have a vision, and they can persuade others to make that vision their own. … Unless you know where you're going and why, you cannot possibly get there. The second basic ingredient of leadership is passion … ."

The idea of passion cannot be stressed enough. In a class I teach about the subject of vision to current and up-and-coming roofing company leaders enrolled in NRCA's Future Executives Institute, I press students to describe their passion about their work. Not surprisingly, I receive blank stares from most and furrowed brows from others who know they should have an answer for me.

I then ask, "What are you passionate about outside of work?" Hands fly up in the air, and others shout out answers as if to say, "See, I'm passionate!" After listening to and further probing the class about their passions, I'll ask, "How does your passion for, say, music, translate to how you lead your company or your area of responsibility?" Again, blank stares.

If you don't feel at least similarly as passionate about your leadership role in your company as you do about your favorite hobby, how will you ever con­vincingly lead a group of people to succeed?

You may never have taken the time to identify the passion you feel for your life as a roofing contractor. But doing so is time well-spent, and you may find that not only do you have incredible passion for your business but a vision for it, as well.

What contractors say

Chris Jurin, vice president of Jurin Roofing Services Inc., Quakertown, Pa., says he and his father recently established a 50-year vision/mission statement for their company.

They chose 50 years because they believe the company doesn't exist for them. Instead, they believe the company exists for future generations and want the company to be well-positioned to hand off to the next generation. This is not to say they don't have short-term objectives; they do. And they constantly review what they're doing and establish goals that feed into supporting a company that will be in business for a long time.

Jurin says: "If you give people tasks, they forget about them and drift. Goals invigorate people and get them to feel good about what they're doing, especially when they see how the goals fit into an overall plan."

He is convinced the strategic-planning effort has yielded the best group of people working for the company he's seen.

"It becomes apparent who fits and who doesn't," he says. "It makes decision making easier even when it comes to who will continue to work for us."

When asked about his vision for his company, Conrad Kawulok, president of B & M Roofing of Colorado Inc., Frederick, makes it immediately apparent he feels passionately about affecting people's lives. B & M Roofing of Colorado's vision statement reads: "Our vision is to provide the most respected team of craftsmen in Colorado."

The bold word reflects the passion Kawulok feels about the people in the organization being successful in an identifiable way.

"I get my greatest joy from being part of a team and leading that team," he says. "We're better as a company, and we provide a better value to our customers because of it."

Conversely, it's not unusual to hear that even after significant effort has been put into the development of a vision statement and subsequent strategic plan, over time the vision diminishes and a business-as-usual mindset takes hold.

Bruce Fryer, chief executive officer of Fryer Roofing Co. Inc., Fresno, Calif., says the vision he established for his company 10 years ago had faded.

He says he wants his company "to operate in such a way it speaks to our customers about our integrity and quality."

He adds, "We have been sidetracked during the past few years by work that wasn't really well-suited for us and, subsequently, wasn't profitable."

Recently, after coming across the old vision statement, he realized the company had lost its focus and he needed to recast his vision. To that end, Fryer Roofing has begun this process. Interestingly, Fryer already has seen the benefits of the process. The company is choosing customers better and seeing bottom-line improvements and a more centered work force.

"To see the company doing well, customers happy and bottom-line improvement has been incredibly motivating for everyone," he says. "Just imagine where we'll be once we re-establish our vision and mission."

Vision as foundation

The research, logic and experiences of a couple of roofing contractors support the notion that strategic planning is indeed worth the time and effort it requires. And your ability to clearly and passionately articulate your vision is paramount to the process' success. It can be argued few efforts have more effect on a company's success than a well-crafted and clearly identified vision.

If the strategic-planning process can build the structure that makes your vision come alive where everyone in the organization can work toward the same goals, getting there can be exciting, challenging and even fun. What more can you ask for?

Tom Shanahan, CAE, is NRCA's associate executive director of education and risk management.

The process

Vision statements, mission statements, long-term objectives, short-term objectives, tactics. These and many other terms all are part of strategic planning. It's not possible to be in business and not at least have heard of some of these terms.

Peter Drucker, considered the founding father of management studies, defined strategic planning as the continuous process of making decisions about your organization's future. He emphasized the need for gathering data, organizing the efforts needed to carry out decisions and continually monitoring the process.

Much research has been devoted to the efficacy of strategic planning for smaller businesses, and five key points have emerged. Successful strategic planning depends on the following:

  1. Having a handle on your company's external influences (this includes performing thorough market research to un­derstand and know the competition and customer needs, for example)
  2. Involving key personnel
  3. Analyzing how organizational functions are integrated (marketing, finances, personnel, etc.)
  4. Objectively assessing the company's internal operations (customer service, operation efficiency, retention of high-quality employees, etc.)
  5. Effectively using analytical techniques such as forecasting and trend analysis

Although all of this sounds good in theory, understanding the framework for the process is important to keeping your perspective and ensuring a good outcome. Following are the general steps in a strategic-planning process. (The major steps are in bold.)

A vision statement is about the passion the owner has for why he's in business and is developed to describe what the company is and/or will be. The vision is supported by the mission statement. A mission statement tells the story of what a company will do to accomplish its objectives and reflects the passion imbued in the vision. Once a mission is created, significant data gathering occurs. Data gathering usually is the most time-consuming and crucial step. It must be done thoroughly.

After data is collected and integrated, strategies for accomplishing the mission are identified. Importantly, based on data received, it may be necessary to make mission adjustments. Once all adjustments are made, financial projections need to be established.

This gives rise to further mission scrutiny. For example, if growth is a key component to your mission and involves significant capital expenditures and your ability to secure capital is in question, a reassessment may be necessary.

Once financial projections appropriately line up with strategies, long-term objectives should be established. These long-term objectives, which can have completion dates of 12 months or more, are supported by short-term objectives that are set to be accomplished in less than a year.

Budgets then are developed and approved, and work begins to develop the tactics that accomplish the short-term objectives. Importantly, a feedback loop must be established to ensure information is flowing through all phases of the process and company. Finally, results are monitored and managed. Based on the feedback received, results must be evaluated at frequent established intervals and adjustments made if warranted.

Adjustments can be major (a strategy needs to be reconsidered based on new information that materially changes assumptions) or minor (budget allocations need shifting to support certain activities crucial to goal attainment). It is important to understand nothing is permanent. However, if you experience the need to make continual significant adjustments, your original data collection may not have been thorough and may need revisiting.

But before you get too involved in the details, know strategic planning only is successful if you are committed to it and the process. Also, it is important to get objective, knowledgeable support from someone who can guide your company through the process, such as a management consultant. Taking on the job yourself can lead to biases.

Remember, too, it is your job, not the consultant's, to drive the process and ensure all company employees understand the importance of the effort.This means having some kind of kick-off meeting to announce and describe what will transpire during the time period you've set aside for this effort. Also, you must keep track of the timetable and hold everyone accountable to meet deadlines. This will send a clear message about how important the process is to you.


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