I started many years ago in the purebred cattle business. I worked in livestock sales management, breeding champion Red Angus. Located in Saskatchewan, I ran my Red Angus herd with my father’s herd of Black Angus. Our neighbor, Davie, was always ready to help whenever needed, and he was able to build anything out of spare parts and scrap metal. He had a mixed farming operation a mile down the road.
One day he called and asked if I could come over with a tractor and front-end loader to help him move his chicken coop. I thought the request was a little odd, and intrigued, I went over with the tractor.
Davie planned to lift the chicken coop off the ground and move it to fresh ground and simply scoop up the chicken manure from the coop’s original location with his tractor and bucket. Much easier than shoveling by hand.
Davie had all the details worked out. We would both position our tractors on either side of the shed and lift the coop with our front-end loader buckets and move in unison to the new location. There was one problem. We couldn’t see each other when we lifted the chicken coop. So, Davie, had his young son stand far enough back so both of us could see him direct us.
We positioned our tractors. Davie gave his son the signal to lift. The shed rose effortlessly, leaving a pile of manure behind. Then things went horribly wrong. In Davie’s excitement, he wasn’t clear on his hand signals to his son, or his son misinterpreted what Davie wanted. Instead of moving in one direction, his son had us moving in opposite directions. The chicken coop collapsed in a heap. It was as if it got stomped by a giant foot. Fortunately, Davie had removed the chickens before we tried to move the coop.
This story illustrates what many small to medium-sized businesses struggle with – planning, execution, and coordinated effort. If planning, execution, and coordinated effort are done well, the company thrives, and if done poorly or not at all, the business collapses, like the chicken coop. Good planning, execution, and coordinated effort seem obvious, but I am surprised how difficult it seems to pull off. It comes down to leadership. Heading up most small businesses are the founder or entrepreneurs who may have a clear sense of where they want to go. However, they struggle to communicate their primary strategy to their employees in many situations. A study published in the Harvard Business Review showed that, on average, only 5% of employees were aware or understood their company’s strategy. If employees don’t know or understand their company’s strategy, how are they expected to contribute to its delivery in their daily work? Davie’s hand signals confused his son, who wasn’t sure of the objective; therefore, there was no coordinated effort, and the chicken coop came crashing down.
I witnessed strategic planning sessions where leadership hires a consultant who leads the group through a navel-gazing exercise to arrive at the Vision and Mission statement published for all to see. The problem is these statements typically contain high-minded words and platitudes such as “We will become the leader in our industry (vision) by excelling in superior customer service and corporate responsibility to our employees and community (mission). Nothing actionable here. Why and how is this to be achieved? Nice sounding statements to which you could add – “well, I hope so.”
A vision statement must focus on tomorrow and what an organization wants to ultimately become based on its unique value proposition and comparative strengths. A mission statement focuses on today and what an organization does to achieve it by connecting the organization and its resources to those customers, markets, and businesses where it can create long-run value and profitability and disconnect the organization from everything else. Both are vital in directing strategic objectives broken down to quarterly objectives and key results (commonly referred to as OKRs).
Appropriately done, everyone can see where the company is going and how it intends to get there. In addition, through employee participation in developing and executing objectives, the business can achieve horizontal and vertical alignment, meaning everyone is moving in the same direction.