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The Benefits of Having a Vision – Zingerman’s Creating a Vision of Greatness Seminar

Thinking about our vision.

About 8 months ago my partner and I went to Ann Arbor to take the Zingerman’s “Creating a Vision of Greatness” seminar. It was clarifying and life changing in so many ways. Let me preface this by saying that we had both done 5-10 year strategic plans before either with clients, at past employers or through our charity work. Creating a Vision of Greatness was not like any of our previous experiences.

Let’s start with the definition of Vision that came up when I googled “Define Vision”

Vision definition screenshot from Google

Now those 5-10 year business plans we had both done previously really had no vision whatsoever. They were a list of goals and timelines for achieving them. Sometimes there was a nice plan that had milestones along the way but you couldn’t truly “see” what the business would look like in 5-10 years other than what the financial statements might say. I’m all for having budgets and financial statements (seeing as I’m accountant) but without being able to envision what that actually means in terms of staff, culture and how things operate on a day to day business. You may achieve your financial goals but at a personal cost to you and your employees.

Having a vision for your business, as I learned at Zingerman’s is a completely different thing. Over our two days we were lead through various exercises to help us “unlock” our true vision. The visions we all wrote were like the best stories with lots of details and descriptions so that you could feel what it would be like to work at Hawkins & Co. Accounting 10 years out. If you are going to go to the trouble of writing a vision “story” there is no point in writing what you think other people expect from you. That’s what we frequently do and then we wonder why we aren’t happy with how things unfold. The team at Zingerman’s helped me to pull out what was important to me on a personal level so that my business goals would also feed my personal needs. They also helped me to understand which part of my vision “story” was so important that if you took it away it may as well be someone else’s vision. This was exceptionally helpful when it came time to merge my business vision with my partner’s.

Here’s an excerpt from our vision to give you a sense of what I’m talking about:

Hawkins & Co. – Our vision of the future
Why are we laying out this vision?
To help us understand what our future looks like.
To give clarity and direction to our partners and staff when facing choices – both big and small.
If we follow our vision, we will always know the right thing to do.

Setting the scene
It’s 9.30am on Jan 26, 2024 and Allison is coming to the office, fresh from the gym affiliated to H&Co. Jules is also on his way in, slightly delayed by the Rotary committee meeting he was chairing. Both are confident that the management team and staff will have everything ready for the key meeting with Michelle at 10.30. On the way through the door, we meet other staff who are coming or going.

As Allison walks in, she is greeted by our fabulous front office staff, who is just putting out the fruit and gourmet snacks (catered by a client) for the meeting. The office is light and airy, with many plants freshening the air. Everybody gets access to natural daylight. A pleasant hum of activity fills the open space, transmitting positive energy.

In fact, it’s more than that – the office is buzzing and everyone is excited – because tonight we are also celebrating our “10th annual office opening party” at the local winebar that became a client last year. In preparation, the staff have already prepared the swag for our clients and guests. Jules and Allison are looking forward to the evening, as it’s the first time they’ve taken no part in planning the event.

Michelle comes in with her financial controller, and our team of three join her in the big meeting room. Multi-coloured graphics fill one large TV screen, and a range of information fills the other. Michelle’s controller (whom we trained in her role) and our manager lead the meeting. We are meeting to discuss her plans for a third location, and how to best finance its launch. Michelle has been with us almost since we launched, and she came to us as she was purchasing her first business. Since then, she’s been the poster child for how we work with clients – successful, in control of her business, understanding how to use data to make decisions, and generous to her staff and customers.

Lunch is a little short, since we’re closing the office at 4pm. However, two of our co-ops are giving a lunch-n-learn presentation on a technical topic to five more senior staff. They handle questions well and get applause. They will post their presentations on our intranet after lunch.

People have lots to do, but we all get away in time. Jules and Allison stay a few minutes later, for a conference call with a prospective new business partner. They look forward to walking in to a room of clients, friends and staff.

Over the course of the two days many people in the room asked “What about the implementation? When are we going to get to go through the plan for implementing this vision?” Now I’m a big planner so I was thinking the same thing. We were repeatedly told by Ari & Maggie that were running the sessions –don’t worry about the how and don’t let that fact that you don’t know how you’re going to get there limit your vision. Herein lies the key to this type of visioning. We are our own worst enemies when it comes to setting goals. If you first thing about what you think you can do in a given time frame, say 5-10 years and then write your vision you will undoubtedly limit yourself. If instead you think about what you would like to achieve, if you didn’t have to worry about how to get there, you will come up with a true vision that feeds your soul and excite you for the next 10 years. Your vision should be a stretch and should scare you a little otherwise what’s the point really.

What I can tell you is that when we finished writing our 10 year vision we were scared and had no idea how we were going to achieve many of the things on it. In the 8 months since we wrote our 10 year vision we are shocked at how many we have been able to accomplish. The amazing thing is that we don’t refer to our vision daily but the act of taking the time to write it and share it with our staff has been so clarifying that we are now all living it. Staffing decisions have been easier. Deciding which systems and software to implement is in process. We have even had the courage to turn away clients that didn’t fit with how we want to work as a firm.

Writing our vision and sharing it was like jumping off a cliff. It was scary. The future looks bright now that we know where we are going. We now believe it is possible to achieve our vision and the how is unfolding as we make business decisions guided by our vision.

~Allison

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