Why Vision Isn't Enough
by Navin V. Nagiah

Vision tells you where to go; Cause gives you a reason to get there!

Early 20th Century: Ford's Vision - "Democratize the Automobile"

Mid to late 20th Century: Sony's Vision - "Change the world-wide poor quality image of Japanese products"

Mid to late 20th Century: Mary Kay Cosmetics Vision - "Empower Women"

What is common amongst these companies apart from all of them being stupendous successes during their times? They each had a clear and powerful vision that was supercharged by the presence of a strong cause.

What is cause?

Today, more than ever, the society and economy are based on ideas - it is a thinking society - people not only want to know where and what, but also why. The "WHY" is the "cause". It provides reason for action.

A cause is about passion; it stems from the heart; it can draw on a monumental amount of strength from the depths of a person's being. You think the cause. You feel the cause. You become the cause. It possesses you. It drives you. It energizes you. It excites you, inspires you and fires you up. With a cause, you don't accept defeat, not because you are strong or ambitious, but simply because, from your perspective, defeat isn't even an option.

Cause is what ignites and sustains the fire in the belly. It is what stokes the hunger for progress and achievement. It is what gives you an intense desire to achieve - to make progress - to excel. It is what gives you the strength and energy to overcome adversity.

The longest, deadliest and most unpopular war the Americans ever fought was in Vietnam. A war that to this day stirs controversy and evokes both passion and emotion. Over 2 million highly trained American soldiers with the world's best ammunition and equipment were dispatched to fight the war. The war lasted for eight long years (1965 to 1973). Over eight years, the US casualties mounted, victory remained elusive, and the US involvement in war crimes such as the massacre at My Lai was exposed.

Then the cause began to be questioned - Why are we fighting this war? Whose war is this? Are we really helping anybody by fighting this war? Are we even helping ourselves? Are we causing more harm than good? There were huge public demonstrations in Washington D.C., other major US cities and on college campuses. General public opinion moved from general approval to general dissatisfaction.

We seemed to have both a grand vision and the wherewithal to fight the war. However, we no longer had a strong enough cause - a cause we believed in.

North Vietnamese tanks smashed into Saigon on April 30, 1975. America and South Vietnam had lost the war (under the peace accord signed in 1973).

With a stronger and more resilient cause, the result may have been different.

Our cause couldn't stand the tests of time and reason. Once the cause withered, the ability was still there but our country's heart and soul weren't willing anymore, resulting in our withdrawal.

What applies to the country also applies to business. "Cause" today is more important than ever before. It is not enough for a company to communicate "where" it is headed. It is not just about having a grand vision of being the world leader or dominant player and communicating that vision.

It also needs to communicate exactly why that vision is important and why a company is headed in a particular direction. Why does the company do what it does? Saying "We want to be the # 1 player or dominant player or world leader" isn't enough. Why do you want to be the dominant or #1 player?

Why should an employee put his body, mind and soul in helping the company realize its vision? Monetary benefits can buy time and skills - but for the company to ensure that the employees commit their heart and soul to the endeavor - the company needs a cause - a strong cause, a cause that strikes an emotional chord with the rank and file, a cause that every employee can relate to. That is what will drive excellence and resilience in employees and therefore in the organization.

While it is important and required that a company has vision - having a cause is equally, if not more important. As an organization, do you have a cause? Do you have a strong reason for existence? Can you define your cause with conviction, clarity and sincerity?

A vision describes the future - where you are going or where you want to go. Without a clear and comprehensive vision statement, an organization will flounder and pull in different directions. With clear vision, everyone has a unified organizational view of the future and clear direction, enabling people to row in the same direction. But, do people row hard enough and long enough? Do they have deep reservoirs of energy that is required for sustained effort? What is their reason to row? Without that reason, is organizational performance optimal?

Influencing people's motivation means getting them to want to do, what you know must be done. While vision tells them what needs to be done, it doesn't necessarily give them a motivation to do it. For a start-up, survival or even the very act of building a company against odds is cause enough. However, that may not be sufficient motivation for an employee, as a company grows larger. A cause becomes essential - it becomes essential to establish a psychological and emotional bond between the person and the organization. A cause stokes the fire of emotion. It builds emotionally driven connections between employees and the organization, and between employees themselves.

If you have the right comprehensive vision and a worthy cause to prop-up that vision - you have a very good chance of running an organization that is in-flow; an organization that is in synchrony and is moving harmoniously in the same direction. A shared cause driven vision along with excellent execution will result in an organization where the individual willingly sub-ordinates himself to the success and progress of the organization. In such a scenario, all involved with the organization share in a feeling of both harmony and power - there is a strong sense of individuality but with the bond of togetherness.

The test for a cause-driven mission/vision statement is fairly straightforward - the rank and file can identify with a cause driven mission statement; it very often has a social benefit/welfare characteristic. People more often than not want an opportunity to contribute positively to society.

Some examples of cause driven vision include:

Ford's goal of "democratizing the automobile": This was both a vision and a very worthy cause. No wonder Ford was a run-away success and an icon of a company during that time.

Sony - "Become the company most known for changing the world-wide poor quality image of Japanese products": Another company that had a cause driven vision and became a worldwide icon.

Mary Kay Cosmetics - "To give unlimited opportunity to women". Mary Kay Cosmetics was started by Mary Kay Ash in 1963 when she was more than 45 years old with the simple goal of making a difference in women's lives. The company went on to become multi-billion dollar cosmetics powerhouse with almost a million sales consultants (almost all women) around the globe.

Unlike the above, a vision statement such as "To become a $200 Billion company by year X" OR "To become the world leader in " doesn't fire people up. It has a destination/vision but why should your rank and file employee be fired up about this vision? Do you think an employee thinks this is reason enough for him/her to put his/her heart and soul into the job? Why should he/she care?

Supercharge your vision with a strong cause. That will make a difference to them individually and to the organization.

Navin V. Nagiah is a senior software executive with extensive marketing, strategy and operational experience in high technology start-ups and pre-IPO private companies. Mr. Nagiah has successfully taken products to market in the US, UK, Hong Kong, China, India and Singapore. Mr. Nagiah's most recent positions held include President & CEO of Xisource - an Enterprise software solution provider for complex procurement, Managing Director, Asia for Internet Securities Inc (A Euromoney Institutional Investor Company - LSE: ERM) and General Manager, Products for Internet Securities (A Euromoney Institutional Investor Company - LSE: ERM). Mr. Nagiah currently lives in San Francisco, CA and can be reached at navin.nagiah@earthlink.net .

Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2005 by Navin V. Nagiah. All rights reserved.

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