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Second-Stage Sensei

by Dr. Dino Signore

Manager of Entrepreneurial Education

3 steps to focus your moonshot thinking

In the movie Apollo 13, there’s a scene where NASA flight directors Gene Krantz and Glynn Lunney are discussing problems with transferring data from the command module to the lunar module:

Krantz: If Jack can’t get that guidance computer data transferred before they go dead in there…

Lunney: They won’t even know which way they’re pointed.

Krantz: That’s right.

Lunney: That’s a bad way to fly.

Similarly, operating without a vision is a bad way to run your company. A vision is your compass. It provides direction for both strategic and tactical decision-making. It enables the organization to grow beyond anyone in the organization, including the founder. And it marshals extraordinary human effort by rallying your employees.

In the leader retreats I facilitate at the Edward Lowe Foundation, we take a slightly different approach to traditional vision concepts. Rather than just defining a vision or mission statement, we ask entrepreneurs to create a vision model, which combines three things: your core values, organizational purpose, and a big, hairy audacious goal (BHAG).

  1. Define your core values.

Core values blend your philosophy of life with your approach to business. They flow out of your personal and business experiences, as well as the family and the community in which you were raised. These are principles that are important to you — and ones you want employees to understand.

Because values shape behavior, they can become building blocks of your corporate culture. They influence how you treat employees, how employees interact with each other and how your company treats customers.

When articulating your core values, avoid using one or two words. Otherwise, you can cause confusion. For example, suppose “revolutionary” is one of your values. Are we talking about cutting-edge innovation or subversive activity? If you want core values to be short and sweet, include a supporting sentence. Don’t leave your employees guessing.

Core values should be enduring; they are not flavors of the week. They also need to be authentic. You can’t just say them, you have to live them. So once you define these values, be prepared to walk the talk.

Many companies use core values in their hiring process to ensure new talent will be a good culture fit. Others use them in performance evaluations. Some find ways to recognize and celebrate individuals that exemplify core values in action, which reinforces the significance of the values.

  1. Assess your purpose.

This is the reason your company exists, why you do what you do. Ask yourself: What is the fundamental reason why we’re here? Why do we matter? Making a profit isn’t a good enough answer. Granted, that’s an outcome of your business, but don’t stop there. You want to nail down what kind of the change you’re trying to effect in the world.

Your purpose grows out of your cores values. It’s a guiding star and should be enduring. You’re always working toward it, but never fully attain it. In addition, your purpose should be inspiring. It’s the reason you get up and go to work each morning, even after working 20 days in a row.

The purpose statement should also motivate your employees. And if done well, it can help you recruit new talent. Millennials, in particular, want jobs that involve a cause. Your purpose statement helps you articulate why your company is making a difference.

At the Edward Lowe Foundation, our purpose is to “champion the entrepreneurial spirit.” Ed Lowe, our founder, wanted to help others not only act entrepreneurially but think entrepreneurially. And though our organization is almost 30 years old, the purpose statement still resonates. In fact, I think it has even more relevance in today’s business environment than in 1985.

  1. Establish your BHAG

The BHAG, a concept introduced to management literature by author Jim Collins, is the action piece of your vision model. It should be a stretch goal, but still achievable. It needs to be fairly specific and something you can measure. For example, in 1961 John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” (For second-stage entrepreneurs, however, I recommend setting a three-to-five year goal. Ten years is too far out, and one year isn’t far enough.)

In contrast to your purpose statement, the BHAG is something you do attain. What’s more, it’s adjustable. As you reach the goal, add new people or something changes in your industry, you can reset the BHAG.

Strategy is about the future, and the BHAG is a tool that pushes your thinking out there. Then it helps you work backward to the present to design a series of tactical missions to achieve the goal. For example, when Kennedy set the moon goal, NASA developed three missions: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo — each with specific objectives.

A few tips:

  • Metrics matter. Don’t forget to assign numbers to your BHAG. You need to know when it starts, and you need to know when it ends.
  • Be clear on roles. As the founder, you should establish the core values and purpose statement. After all, it’s your company. It’s okay to bounce them off your team to get a different perspective, but ultimately the decision rests with you. The BHAG is also something you define, but then empower your management team to work out the details. It’s their responsibility to determine how to reach the goal.
  • Your target audience. The vision model is for your employees. This isn’t about branding; it’s something you build to give your team strategic context. If you want to post your values, purpose statement or BHAG on your website or in marketing materials, that’s okay, but remember that’s not the intent. In addition, don’t start working on your vision model with an external audience in mind. You might be tempted to wordsmith to appeal to them, which can diminish the vision model’s power.

One of my favorite scenes in “Apollo 13” is at the beginning of the movie, after Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) and his wife watch the broadcast of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Lovell looks at wife and says: “This was not a miracle. We just decided to go.”

In other words, it didn’t happen by crossing their fingers. Going to the moon was a decision; one that involved hundreds of thousands of strategic and tactical decisions and plans.

Second-stage entrepreneurs are scaling their companies from small to larger. A vision model gives you a tangible structure to talk to your team about the future, influence their behavior and rally their passion. It enables an organization to withstand setbacks, both minor and major, and remain resilient.

Where have you decided to take your company — and how are you going to get there?

This article originally appeared Nov. 25, 2014, on Inc.com (http://www.inc.com/dino-signore/3-steps-to-focus-your-moonshot-thinking.html)