Harvest is upon us and in some areas the feed and grain industry is hitting on all cylinders. The middle of what may be the most intense part of the year may seem like an odd time to be thinking about your firm’s vision and values, but that is what we are going to ask you to do in this column. Being in the midst of “doing what you do,” is not a bad time to take a look at the alignment between what your firm’s vision and where you are now. Likewise, when your organization is running flat out, you can take stock as to whether or not your actions are aligned with your beliefs or values.
Think about it: You may have invested some time framing a vision for your organization when you put together that last strategic plan. But in the three to seven years since you went through that planning exercise, does your vision still reflect the realities of today’s and tomorrow’s business environment? Perhaps more importantly, the “busy season” gives you a chance to really assess how you do business and determine if you are living your values. How your firm acts and reacts when the pressure is on says a lot about you.
While notions like vision and values can be really fuzzy ideas, we will make the case in this column that they can also be powerful points of difference for your feed and grain firm. Especially when the vision provides guidance for decisions, brings your stated values to life, and in the process, energizes your employees to rally around your company’s core purpose and beliefs. Let’s start with some discussion of these two fundamentally important ideas.
Most management texts will define vision as a statement of what the firm wants to become, the difference it wants to make, the basic needs it wants to address, and stated in an aspirational, inspirational and concise way. (We won’t get into hair splitting over the difference between vision statements and mission statements. In our book, mission statements are more reflective of who we are and what we do, while vision statements address what we want to become. We will focus on vision here.) If your firm has been through a strategic planning activity, you likely developed one of these vision statements. Maybe your statement says something like:
- “We will support a viable livestock industry in our region by becoming the region’s preeminent animal nutrition solution provider through our focus on innovative products, exceptional service and an unsurpassed passion for quality”
Or, it might look something like this:
- “Our firm will enhance the profitability of growers in our state through exceptional marketing opportunities created by strategically located facilities, creative risk management tools and the lowest cost of doing business in our region.”
There is a lot going on in these kinds of statements. These firms are lifting up why they do what they do, for example “contributing to a viable livestock industry,” and “enhancing the profitability of our growers.” There are also aspirational statements here that are measureable, such as “lowest cost of doing business in region.” In addition, there are aspirational statements that are less easy to measure such as, “unsurpassed passion for quality.” Key elements of firm strategy are embedded as well like “innovative products,” “exceptional service,” etc.
In theory, such statements could serve a lot of purposes like providing guidance when making decisions, serving as a rallying point for employees, defining you for the marketplace, etc. While we know some would disagree, we would argue that a thoughtful vision statement can capture the true essence of a firm and provide a vivid description as to why employees find meaning in the work there.
And, at a time when a feed and grain firm needs every edge in the market, retaining great employees and creating a meaningful work environment is certainly a worthy goal to pursue. Why then do so many managers/firms go through the motions of developing a vision statement, but never really use the statement, rendering it as nothing more than some words on paper, something they did because it is just part of the recipe? Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at the idea of values.