Thursday, November 17, 2011

Spare Me Your Vision


If you’ve ever launched a business, you’ve been faced with the task of writing a Vision statement and a Mission statement.  One does one thing, the other does another, and I can never keep the two straight in my head.  But I do know that having a clear idea of what the business should look like three or five years down the road--what I call the “end state,” which I can keep straight--is awfully important to running a successful enterprise.

Now, if you’ve ever run a business, and published a Vision and Mission statement to the team, you have undoubtedly run into this situation: Some consultant will meet your team, perhaps at an offsite training, and report back to you that, regretably, nobody but nobody knows the Mission and Vision of your company.

You can gnash your teeth and beat your breast, knowing that you have been diligent in spreading the gospel.  Maybe, however, there’s something else going on.

I’m a New England Patriots fan, and every Monday Coach Bill Belichick is interviewed on the radio about Sunday’s game.  Belichick is, without a doubt, the worst interview in sports.  He reveals nothing.  When the Patriots play badly he says, “We didn’t make enough plays to win.”  When they play well he says, “We made enough plays to win.”  If you are looking for some kind of erudite exposition of the game, you’ve come to the wrong interview.

But Belichick says something so often it’s almost humorous: “We just need people to do their job.”  It's a kind of mantra for him.  When his players are interviewed they will often deflect a question by saying “Coach just needs me to do my job.”

Just do your job.  That’s what one of the smartest, winningest coaches in the history of football tells his players: Just do your job.  Is there a game strategy?  Of course.  Belichek knows it, as do his coaches.  I assume he discusses it with his team during the week.  But he doesn’t ask his players to memorize the strategy, or be able to recite it.  That’s his job.  When he creates the game plan each week, that’s his job.  And, when his wide receiver runs five steps, cuts left and looks over his inside shoulder for the ball, that’s his wide receiver’s job.

Just do your job.  That’s how the Patriots win.

There’s a reason your team doesn’t know the Vision and Mission by heart: It doesn’t help them do their job.  I promise, if it did, they would know it cold.  It’s not that they don’t want to know it, of course, or be reminded, or recognize that they’re contributing to it.  They just don’t need it memorized to do their job.

In the mid-1980s I was managing cable TV properties in Illinois.  These were the go-go days of cable when we were opening up new neighborhoods and people were chasing the cable TV truck down the street hoping to schedule an installation.  One day I got into it with one of our key suppliers--their fault, no doubt--and they withheld shipment of some important material we needed for installs.  We went from dozens of happy new customers a day to none, and the phones began ringing off the hook.

Finally, on a Friday, I solved the problem and, in a show of support (or punishment, depending on your perspective), asked our management team to be in the warehouse bright and early on Saturday morning to help assemble product for the installers and get them on the road quickly for special weekend installs.

There we were, putting together installation packets, when Jeff, the Warehouse Manager came over.  “Thanks,” he said, “for helping out.”  I beamed.  What a great GM I was.  “But,” he added, “if you did your job, you wouldn’t have to do mine.”

That message stuck, big time.  (It’s 28 years later and I still remember.)

All of which is to say, if you are running a business, your job is Mission and Vision and End State.  Figure it out.  Make sure the team is working toward it.  Go ahead and sell it internally from time to time.  Do your job.

But your Customer Service Manager is supposed to make customers deliriously happy.  Let him do his job.  Your VP-Sales is supposed to sell tons of stuff.  Let her do her job. 

Mission and Vision have their place, but Bill Belichick is right.  One critical secret to success is simple: Just do your job.