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Opinion & Analysis

Start-ups must cling to vision and values early

The founder-CEO of an organisation has a clear vision of what is possible, and he brings his strong values to the organisation. PHOTO | NMG
The founder-CEO of an organisation has a clear vision of what is possible, and he brings his strong values to the organisation. PHOTO | NMG 

I have recently been working with a very exciting start-up that is working frantically to prepare all aspects of its operations for a big launch and for having a major disruptive influence in their sector. In among the time-critical construction of facilities, the hiring of people, the evolving of structures and systems and so forth, it has been hard for them — make that impossible — to get together so as to reflect on their vision and values and form a cohesive team.

The founder-CEO has a clear vision of what is possible, and he brings his strong values to the organisation. Then, as he has been recruiting key members of his senior management team he has been seeking people who share his bold and uplifting vision and who are at home with his equally inspiring values.

Now the top team is in place, and they swiftly got down to meeting the crazy deadlines they had set. They have also communicated their planned timescales to their stakeholders, putting serious extra pressure on such shared ambitious expectations — as much with their investors as with their customers, suppliers, the regulators and others.

So now in the midst of all this frantic activity they decided to hold a retreat to talk about vision and values? Surely not! Think of all they could be doing instead — overseeing construction, working on big tenders, sorting out licences, soothing anxious shareholders…

Not everyone was convinced. If at all they were to be away from the office, some asked, could it not just be to refine their short-term plans? No, insisted the CEO. It was equally important to get the whole team to evolve a joint expression of their vision and values, not only to bind themselves together around owning and living these expressions but for the benefit of all their other stakeholders too.

True, while these days everyone has thrown together visions, missions and values, for the overwhelming majority it’s a notional one-off activity, soon neglected and forgotten. Why bother, therefore? And for this start-up why now, when there’s so much else to do?

First, there will always be so much to do. The pace will never slow down. Not for any organisation that expects to survive, never mind one whose ambition is to disrupt a whole industry. Then, investing time in defining one’s desired vision and values, one’s culture, is vital to ensuring everyone indeed lives them.

Those who do well here can then be recognised as role models and suitably rewarded, while those who do not can be helped to do so — and if they prove to be unhelpable they can justifiably be told that this is not the place for them. As significantly, in recruiting new talent a vibrant broadcasting of one’s vision and values will help greatly in attracting the kind of people you are seeking.

If you talk about boldness and risk-taking, about innovation and entrepreneurialism, about learning and growth, you are defining your brand in ways that will appeal to the right types.

It’s good for everyone to get a sense of where you are headed, who you are and how you expect to behave — with each other and with everyone else.

Let me, therefore, appeal to all those who are launching a venture to make time at the earliest opportunity for laying out your aspirational identity —both in terms of the impact you seek to make on society and in how you will behave along the way.

Those who leave it till they get “less busy” will probably never get down to it, continuing to exist at the level of day-to-day hustling and thereby risking their longer term futures.

I must also address more established and mature organisations.

Most of you display some expression of your vision and values on your websites and elsewhere. But rarely do leaders refer to these as sources of inspiration, motivation and focus, or as drivers of performance.

Where are you in all of this?

By taking advantage of modelling and speaking about your visions and values you are capitalising on a great opportunity for leading your team to greater heights.

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