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The Importance of Corporate Vision

I met an 88-year-old man named Orville at my health club, first noticing him one afternoon while checking in. I saw Orville sort of stumbling along behind me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was no way this man, slowly shuffling along the path to the gym, was going to work out! Orville patiently moved, inch by inch, into the weight-training area, picked up some dumbbells, and with an audible grunt, started his routine.

Then one day I happened to see him out of the corner of my eye stepping onto one of the treadmills. I was across the room, and he was already reaching for the start button. Too far away to help him, I just stood there and watched. As the treadmill came to life, Orville took one small step, and then another. The machine picked up speed, but miraculously, so did his legs. Within a minute, he hit full stride, running like a man half his age!

At this point, the reality of the situation dawned on me. Orville’s problem wasn’t with his legs, it was with his vision. He couldn’t see where he was going. He shuffled along slowly, not because he couldn’t run, but because he was worried that he would knock his knee, shin, or toe on the nearest weight equipment.

Though Orville did nothing to cause his vision problem, it is a powerful example of how limited we are when we lack clarity and vision. Being capable, but having no vision is poor stewardship. We, as individuals and organizations, can’t afford that. Without clarity, speed and meaningful action are impossible. With clear focus we not only become more efficient and effective, but we also build trust. Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, said, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.”

Few things inspire trust or hope like every member of a team working together towards a shared vision. A clear vision unifies and motivates. We see it in sports all the time. Certain teams, often lacking a big-name super star, seem to “gel” or “come together” at just the right moment. Often, when interviewed after the game, the players will comment on how focused they were on the common goal. When the players understand their role as well as the larger strategy and vision, the ground is fertile for success to grow.

If you are a leader in your organization, share your vision consistently. If you are not sharing your vision at least every thirty days, your team doesn’t know it. A clear vision inspires, unifies, and gives powerful focus.

The Bottom Line Effect of Caring for Your Customers

Top sales people don’t just get to where they are because they make a lot of calls, or because they know the best closing techniques. In most cases, their clients have come to see them less as commission earners and more as trusted partners. In those relationships, when the customer recognizes they’re truly cared for, they show their satisfaction by buying again and again—and referring you to others.

A good friend of mine and the top sales person for one of the largest A+ mutual insurance companies in America is a very uncommon man. Not only does Scott provide exceptional service and a listening ear, but he also continually gives to his clients. He gives everything from note pads and pens to Harley Davidson Stereos. Every client who buys an insurance product gets flowers immediately. Not only is it his nature to give, but I bet it is hard for another agent to come in and undercut him when they have to peer over the vase of flowers on the counter. When he hears of any client or family of his client being sick, he sends more flowers. He even trusts them to use his condos on the beach. He doesn’t use them as a write-off, and he doesn’t charge the client. Don’t think Scott just became generous once he was successful. Before he had a beachside getaway, he had a heart for service and generosity. He shared one of his mantras with me, “Small deeds are far better than great intentions.” Scott considers his role to be a professional servant. He says, “When you serve others and care about them, it all comes back to you.” Why does this work? He thinks beyond himself in the most genuine way, treating his clients like friends. As a result, many of them have become friends.

Of course people can show compassion for selfish reasons such as recognition or greed. People can “look” concerned when they are not, just like in Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire. Two hungry orphan boys, Salim and Jamal, were living in a garbage heap when they were found by Maman, who seemed like a savior at the time. Maman fed the boys and took them to his orphanage with a playground. The boys soon learned that Maman only showed concern in order to own them and teach them how to be beggars on his behalf. But what happened to Maman? He got rich but was angry, stressed, and ultimately murdered by those who he had taken advantage of. The most powerful compassion is sincere.

Trust is a Business Asset

The impact of trust on the economy can be witnessed at the corporate level. Bear Stearns, AIG, and Lehman Brothers were at one time considered trust-based businesses. Each of these companies relied on the trust of the market to establish the firm’s value. As trust goes down, value goes down. For instance, the $236 million purchase proposal for Bear Stearns by JP Morgan Chase came just hours after Bear Stearns’ market capitalization was $3 billion. Interestingly, just over a year ago that market cap was $20 billion. As trust in the market tanks, so does the value of the business.

Bill Otis, former Chief of the Appellate Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, offered this analysis: “Our ability to bail our way out of this recession is extremely limited, because, even if they worked and could be paid for, bailouts and government spending generally fail to address the fundamental problem at the heart of our difficulties. The fundamental problem is not liquidity or even solvency. It is trust—or more correctly, the lack of trust—that has spawned the breakdown in the credit markets. The lack of trust cannot be remedied with money. It can only be remedied with that which creates trust.”

Though our trust has been shaken in America during this economic crisis, we still enjoy a level of trust that is not enjoyed in all parts of the world. A business professor and friend of mine, Leo Gabriel, was asked by a native of a small war-torn, developing country, “Why does capitalism work in America and not here?” Gabriel said, “Because, generally, we can assume trust in our economic system.” In America we can go online, order a product, and assume it will be shipped. The retailer can generally assume that he will be paid. Without trust there cannot be economic activity. You must be able to put trust in your cash, check, or credit to have value and be good. A retailer must know that the product or service will be delivered from the supplier as expected. With greater trust comes greater economic activity and a better form of capitalism.