A few days after he took over as interim head football coach at Clemson University in the middle of the 2008 season, the (then) 38-year-old Dabo Swinney, with no head coaching experience, attended a breakfast with the board of trustees that would set the tone for the championship program he intended to build.
As Swinney recounted the story in this interview, one of the trustees told the coach how they wanted Clemson to be a team like the University of Michigan, Florida, and Georgia. But Swinney cut him off mid-sentence.
“I don’t mean this disrespectfully, [but] that’s not my goal,” said Swinney. “My vision for Clemson is that all these other schools want to be like Clemson. I want to build a model program, and I want to do it in a way that loves our players, serves our players, and equips our players. I want to have some fun doing it. And if it [doesn’t] work, I can go do something else.”
Ten years later, Swinney’s bold vision has become a reality. Clemson is on a streak of winning at least 10 games in eight consecutive seasons. They have been crowned National Champions two out of the past three years. And the other top programs...well, they’re now wanting to be like Clemson.
Said Swinney in this interview, “I’ve always dreamed big. The Bible says, ‘As a man thinketh, so is he.’ I’ve always believed in that. I think you got to be a champion on the inside. You got to believe the right things. You got to be able to see it and have a vision for it. Then you got to go act upon it.”
Coach Swinney’s story is a powerful case study for how we can transform our companies through the practice of Courage, the first of the “Great 8” leadership virtues from my book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership.”
That transformation begins, as Swinney would put it, by thinking big and then acting boldly on that vision while being true to your character, values, and integrity in the process.
So, how can you put Courage into practice to achieve breakthrough performance for your company?
The starting point is to establish a bold vision for your company and then develop a smart strategy to reach that destination.
Vision Breakthrough Workshop: What’s the WHY?
Before we dig deeper into this topic, let me provide some context so that you’ll have a clear idea of where we’re headed.
In a previous article, “The Collaboration Effect on Profits: How Great Culture Drives Business Results,” we gave you an overview of the eight Breakthrough Workshops that we at Legacy Advisory Partners conduct with clients, with each Workshop corresponding to its “Great 8” leadership virtue.
(See the list of all eight leadership virtues here.)
Over the next several weeks and months, we’ll be writing a series of articles that deep-dive into each Workshop, giving you a vision of the possibilities, with practical takeaways that you can apply immediately to your business.
Our process came about because, as we started sending out articles to our email list a few years ago about the “Great 8” leadership virtues, companies began to ask us to help them implement certain aspects of those virtues in their organizations. And as we proceeded with this consulting work, we discovered that there is a direct correlation between the adherence to the virtues and improved business results.
That’s because the virtues help create an aligned culture where everyone is rowing in the right direction as if they were one body. And when your organization is operating at such a high level, shouldn't you expect that performance to be reflected in the financial statements?
The answer is Yes! And we call this dynamic the “Collaboration Effect on Profits.”
The idea is that when you create an environment where leadership and rank-and-file employees alike are all working together in their optimal roles toward the same vision, that culture becomes a force multiplier to achieve breakthrough results that exceed your highest expectations.
So, this leads us to Vision Breakthrough Workshop: What’s the WHY?, which we’ll talk about today, with practical takeaways for how you can establish, articulate, and execute on a courageous vision.
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Vision: Your North Star
In Simon Sinek’s terms, your Why—your vision—serves as the North Star, a frame of reference to ensure that your business strategy is taking you and your team in the right direction.
Do you have a courageous vision, where you’re on the offense to achieve high growth?
Or is your vision limited by fear as you play defense to protect the status quo?
The key here is to establish a courageous vision that’s built on both a strong personal conviction and sound business metrics.
Then, once you’ve defined your vision, how well can you explain it? What about everyone on your team, do they understand it? Can they articulate it?
As you think about your vision, keep in mind that It’s one thing to put in place what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, authors of the business classic “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,“ call BHAGs—big hairy audacious goals. But if you don’t have a practical strategy to achieve your vision, you’ll be setting your company up for disappointment and failure.
After all, you can have a courageous vision to take your company from $100 million to $300 million in revenue, but how can you translate that vision into a smart strategy to reach your destination?
The “Big 4” Questions that Drive Strategy
That’s why we’ve developed the “Big 4” strategic business questions—a powerful framework to help leadership teams uncover specific strategies and steps for how to produce amazing financial results for the business.
Question #1: Can you show me the money?
Objective: Evaluate budgets, forecasts, projections, success metrics, valuation
Are you and your team clear on your company’s numbers and budgets? How useful (and predictive) are your forecasts? Who needs to know about your revenue and profit targets? What is the current value of the business?
It's incredible to us that some large institutions don't seem to have a good handle on this. When we ask about their five-year forecasts, they usually don't have one, saying, "That's too far out in the future to predict."
We say, "Do you want the average tenure of your best employees to be at least five years or longer?"
They say, "Of course!"
Our response: "Shouldn't someone be painting the picture of what the five-year vision is for the company?"
Question #2: What is the nut?
Objective: Set personal financial targets and corporate profitability and valuation targets
What numbers are you trying to reach? What is the long-term target valuation for the company trying to achieve? Who on the team knows the financial components that create that value? Does everyone on the team have a clear sense of how they are performing individually and as a company to achieve those goals?
Question #3: What about Bob/ Sarah?
Objective: Attract, incentivize, and retain the best employees
Who do you need on board to help the company achieve its courageous vision?
Do you have the right people on “the bus,” as Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” would put it? And do you have them in the right seats (or roles)?
In certain situations, you’ll find that you’ll need to let some people go and hire other folks with the skills that align better with your goals.
Then, once you have the right people on board, have you figured out how to motivate and retain them?
Are they on a stable career path that they can feel good about?
Have you thought about their compensation and benefits?
Also, each person in the company should know how they are doing—and how the business is doing. Have you helped them identify their most important tasks (MITs) each week, so they know whether they had a good week or not? Are your performance appraisal meetings timely and effective?
The bottom line: The company cannot reach its targets without the employees reaching theirs. If this is done right, everybody wins—the company, the shareholders, the employees, and the customers.
Question #4: You have one chance to hand off to the next-generation leadership—how do you make sure you get it right?
Objective: Develop a transition plan that will prepare your company to succeed to the next generation
If you value the work that you're doing, isn't it vital that it continues beyond you? So, what is your succession plan? Thinking about this now helps ensure that you’re putting the right pieces in place to build a more valuable (and stable) company that continues to flourish even after you leave.
The Bottom Line
Simon Sinek put it best when he said, “Vision is a destination—a fixed point to which we focus all effort. Strategy is a route—an adaptable path to get us where we want to go.”
The key is to make sure that your courageous vision is a destination that you and your team are willing to work towards together. And then use the “Big 4” strategic business questions to help chart your course.
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About the Author: J. David Harper, Jr. serves as CEO and principal of Legacy Advisory Partners, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm that provides total retirement plan advisory services that give clients a greater competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent. David is also the author of the book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership” that teaches business leaders how they can tap into eight timeless “virtues” to expand their influence and achieve sustainable success for their organizations.