Because Pope Julius II believed Michelangelo could do anything, he ordered him to decorate the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. “But I’m not a painter, I’m a sculptor," Michelangelo protested.  "I’ve hardly done anything with a brush and you want me to paint 2000 square feet on a curved ceiling!” At least that's how I imagine the conversation went! My point is that while Michelangelo was ambitious, the Pope was asking him to perform a miracle. If Michelangelo failed, his mistakes would be on public display. 47604390-1

Michelangelo contemplated his options. Although he had never painted in fresco, he decided he'd have to learn the technique. his first design for the Sistine Chapel was simple - the twelve Apostles and some filler decoration. But he then  decided the ceiling would not look magnificent enough, and he sought permission for a more ambitious plan. Michelangelo came up with a vision for a vast painting of three hundred figures illustrating Man’s time on earth before the coming of Christ.

It took Michelangelo four long years to paint the Sistine Chapel. There were numerous setbacks. But it was his commitment to his vision that enabled him to create one of the World's great masterpieces.

What's This Got To Do With Business Vision?

I love figuring out business strategy - working out 'the how.' But having a clear and compelling vision for your business is what drives your strategy. Because having a vision for your business always comes before strategy. If you've a clear business vision, you will come up with the right strategy - even if this takes a few attempts. But if you don’t have a clear vision for your business, no strategy will save you.

Over the years, I've learnt that if you think about strategy (the how) too soon, it will inhibit your vision (the what) and stop you from thinking big. We need a vision that is SO big that it's compelling, not only to others, but also to ourselves. If it’s not compelling, we won’t have the motivation to stay the course when we hit tough times.

In my article Business Strategy Made SimpleI share the business vision of Elon Musk of Tesla Motors:

To accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.”

This was a huge vision, not least because the technology was not available when Elon Musk first articulated it. Tesla did not start out by making electric cars. But Elon Musk’s master plan for Tesla Motors was very simple:

  • Build a sports car
  • Use that money to build an affordable car
  • Use that money to build an even more affordable car
  • While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

Over the past few weeks, I've gone back to my own business vision and re-cast it to sharpen the focus. This in turn has helped me to refine my business strategy. I'll be writing more about this over the coming weeks.

These are the 6 key steps I use to turn my dreams into a vision that leads to actions and tangible outcomes.

1. Dream

Give yourself permission to dream. Take yourself off to a place that inspires you or do an activity (hiking in nature, sailing, visiting an art gallery... ) that allows your mind to relax and get creative. Then start to day dream and think about the type of business YOU want to create. What is your mission? What are your values? What sort of culture do you want to create? What difference do you want your products and services to make in the lives of your customers? What do want your customers to say about your company?

Then come up with your vision statement. This is a one-sentence statement describing the clear and inspirational long-term desired change that results from your company's work.

What's the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement?

  • Vision statements are future-based, dealing with 'how' and 'why' and founded on your core values.  It answers the question, "Where do I see my business going?" It's aspirational. There's nothing practical about a vision statement! That's where strategy comes in.
  • Mission statements are present-based, actionable and designed to convey a sense of why the company exists. They're meant to inspire and give direction to the employees of the company, rather than to customers.  A mission statement answers the question, "Why does my business exist?"

Many of the most successful brands do not differentiate between their vision and mission statements. If you're struggling to separate the two, don't get hung up on this. What is important is that you come up with a statement that excites, inspires and motivates you for the long term.

2. Work Out Why Your Vision Statement Is So Important To You

Your ‘Why’ is the reason your vision statement is so important to you. It will tell you if you really do want it, in which case it’s a true vision, or whether it’s just a whim or passing fancy. Reflect on and refine your ‘Why’ until it is strong and compelling enough. And then write it down alongside your vision statement. Your 'Why' is founded in your values.

Simon Sinek's "Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action" is a great book to help you work through your 'Why.'

At this point, you may like to create a vision board and Pinterest board as a visual representation of the business you want to create.

3. Turn Your Vision Statement Into A Strategy

The action of writing down your vision statement starts the process of developing a strategy. Your mind automatically starts working on ideas to make your vision a reality. It just can't help coming up with ideas. The best business strategies are very simple.

Part of my over-arching business vision is to be able to take a mini sabbatical each year. For years, a dream of mine was to travel around India and see tigers in the wild. At the start of 2013, I decided it was time to make this happen. This was an expensive trip and I had no idea at the time how I would afford it. Not least because I was keen to conserve every penny I had after leaving my CEO role. But this didn’t deter me and I set out to create the circumstances to make such a trip happen. It wasn't until July 2013 that I came up with a strategy which I turned into a set of actionable goals. Over Christmas and New Year 2013, I went to Rajasthan and had the incredible fortune to spend time watching a male tiger with his kill in Ranthambore National Park. It was the most amazing experience.

4. Decide Which Actions Will Help You Progress Your Vision

This is the stage at which people often get derailed because they can’t see all the steps to turn their goals into reality. Our vision can feel HUGE and overwhelming. remember, when we climb a mountain, we can never see the full path. But we can see the first few metres. And then the next few metres...

This is when it's so important to map out your business, financial and marketing plans. These are route maps that will help you to chart the course ahead. They don't have to be long or complicated. What is important at this stage is simply to identify the next set of actions that will move you a few steps closer towards your goals.

5. Set Deadlines

The writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: “A Goal without a Plan is just a Wish. A Plan without a Deadline is just a Fairy Tale.”  So write down a date next to every goal. A deadline is simply a way of making your business vision more concrete and creating a sense of urgency. What’s the worst that will happen if you don’t achieve your deadline? With consistent action, you’ll be further towards realising your goal than you were initially.

[shareable cite="Antoine de St-Exupery"]“A Goal without a Plan is just a Wish. A Plan without a Deadline is just a Fairy Tale.” [/shareable]

I've a key deadline I'm working towards at the moment - 24th June. This is the date I'll start the launch process for a project I've been working on for the past few weeks. The project itself  is enormous! But I've broken it down into a set of small, immediately actionable steps to be completed by 24th June. Then I have another set of activities to be completed in July. Likewise in August. Breaking this project down into chunks - so that I can see the first few steps - is what's made it feel manageable. More on this project another time.

6. Review Your Vision Statement Daily

The process of reading your vision statement daily will make you more focused on achieving it. Out of sight is after all out of mind. At least that's been my experience!  The simple action of looking at your vision statement daily will set your mind thinking about other actions you could take to bring you one more step closer to realising your goals.

Back in 2010, part of my personal vision was to be mortgage free and own my property outright. I wanted to keep my expenses as low as possible during my own business start-up phase. The London property market is expensive. Most of the time I could not see how this was going to happen, but I kept this goal firmly in my mind’s eye regardless. At the point when I was most despairing, I was suddenly able to shift my thinking and come up with just a plan to bring this goal to fruition. I now own my property outright, in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Join the Conversation

Question: I’d love to know what your dream for your business is. And what one action could you take today to take you one step closer to achieving it? Leave a comment for me in the box below.

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About Denyse

I have 25 years’ experience in business, including 8 years as a CEO. I trained at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. With experience in business planning, financial management, risk management, building strategic partnerships, product development, marketing (including PR) plus leading and developing staff teams of up to 150 people, there’s very little I haven’t had to deal with or experienced.

I now run a boutique business consulting and coaching agency, Best Year Ever. If you’re interested in working with me, you can find out more about my business consultancy and coaching practice HERE.