Governing Board Metrics Purpose/Vision/Culture Strategic Planning

When an overly zealous vision hurts instead of helps

I recently reconnected with the former CEO of a long-standing strategic planning and board development client. He opined that one of the sources of the company’s decline was the board adopting too lofty (i.e. unrealistic) a vision.

Those of you familiar with our Vision Navigation® strategic planning process know that we borrow from Collins and Porras and their book, Built to Last, and recommend adopting a BHAG (“Big Hairy Audacious Goal”) that has a clear finish line, acts as a catalyst within the organization, aligns resources and calls the group to higher performance.

Well, they did just that and it was indeed lofty. In this case, a revenue growth goal over a sustained period.

He relayed that the vision put pressure on subsidiary managers to manufacture projections that showed that they would achieve the target growth rate. My take is that it was not the vision that wrought the problem, but rather the failure to critically examine the assumptions behind the numbers and the true competitive position of each subsidiary.

It is possible to create a vision that is laughable or beyond reality for those tasked with achieving it. If you do so, it will be demoralizing rather than galvanizing.

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What should have happened is that the board and leadership should have shifted their gears and gone to a higher level of performance to accompany the higher vision.

All of this strengthens my conviction that a critical examination of a company’s competitive position and the dynamics of its chosen marketplace are key to insuring a prosperous future. I commend all readers to examine the work of Michael Porter from the Harvard Business School who is regarded as the premier theorist on competitive strategy. Employing his approach to competitive analysis will ensure that a vision (which should be re-evaluated each year) continues to serve the organization well.

If you have additional questions on this or would like reference information on Michael Porter, e-mail us. or call us toll free at (877) 276-4414.

Bill Dann