Making money is not a vision

When discussing vision or purpose, the comment that the honest answer to the idea of a vision is ‘making money’ is regularly heard from the sidelines. In fact, vision and purpose emphasise the focus on a long-term goal. But if, according to the hecklers, the most honest vision is ‘making money’, let’s take this for a moment as a working hypothesis for a hypothetical case company.

According to their vision, we focus on the financial decisions. Well, let’s put this ‘vision’ into practice. Let’s assume that two sales colleagues have two possible contracts on the hook. Contract number one brings us a large customer, a lot of business with little margin and the prospect of more deals in the coming years. Order number two is smaller, but with a spectacular high margin.

Our small sample company cannot fulfil both orders at the same time. We have to make a decision. Since a vision has a guiding power, let’s take a look at the objective ‘make money’. Lo and behold, our vision says neither ‘make money quickly’ nor ‘make money sustainably’.

Apart from a lack of understanding of the value of a vision, the rallying cry of ‘make money’ could be an allusion to moral issues. Perhaps also to the discrepancy between a global, earth improving vision and the quarterly staff meeting where 90% of the speaking time is spent on pipeline, turnover and other financial performance indicators.

Very few companies pursue a noble corporate goal altruistically. By their very nature, companies want to make money. What kind of business they want to do should be part of their vision. ‘Making money’ is a performance indicator and essential for survival, but it is not the objective and certainly not the vision. It must be possible to derive from the vision how I act, whether I choose the short-term lucrative or the long-term contract.

Years ago, I met a young man who spent his holidays earning money for a social project in which he had been volunteering for a number of years. The aim of this project was to support and mentor young people with social challenges through sport. To finance the project, he advertised gambling and alcohol. It was extremely important to him to raise as much money as possible. He said that if this advertising money ended up going to a good cause, then that was fine with him.

This is the most extreme example of the discrepancy between a social vision and the ways to raise money that I know of. The Vision is a shared dream, his dream was to fund sports equipment for this social project of his. As opposed to ‘making money’, that’s just the way to get there. You can argue morally about the way he did it.


Why I like visions

Often, visions come with a bad name. Some even see them as irrelevant decoration. This is true for many visions. You can find global-galactic versions, all-encompassing more-beautiful-further-faster editions to preposterous visions that are essentially meant as a kind of misleading advertising.

In my experience, managers who don’t think much of vision can very rarely say in a nutshell what direction they want to take. When asked about the direction, they typically say something about making money in the industry in which they work. But customers don’t buy from me so that I can make money. Money is the compensation for something that is worthwhile.

Having visions can be a particularly good North Star. In programmes or projects, a half-day vision workshop is definitely rewarding, especially if the project is under time pressure. The people involved then know where they stand and have fewer wrinkles on their foreheads. They decide more often in a concerted direction. When problems arise, the alternative options for solving them are usually properly pre-sorted.

Visions are directional for every kind of team. Newly formed teams find themselves together more quickly. Teamwork has fewer friction points. Especially when the business is in transformation, people find anchor points.
Even visions that are too specific and too near prove to be helpful. Especially because dealing with the destination together contributes to team-building. With some guidance and time, dealing with vision, mission, company purpose, values, etc. becomes more and more professional.

For practice, it’s best to think about yourself: What do you want to achieve? How do you want to succeed? Why do you want exactly that? Just like above, the first answer to such questions will be a solid “Um, uh”. And that’s a start!

Spitzer Bleistift