If your plan is to move the ship in a certain direction, it has to start with the board. But just having a board, or having one that is purely operationally focussed (maximising utilisation, managing costs, looking at the next big deal, and so on) leaves the strategic direction of your organisation to chance.
So this module is about getting your leadership ship-shape. Yes, that’s partly about role definitions (CEO, CTO, Creative Director, CFO, etc.). But the bigger work is in understanding that the primary role of the board is to lead, with all the messiness that this involves. And that leadership starts with your vision and your values.
Why should the best consultants in your space join you? Why should clients come to you rather than anyone else? Where are you planning to take them? The fundamental part of how you answer that question should lead directly back to your vision.
More than just a statement for your website, a good vision acts as a rallying cry for your team when things get tough, and an alignment of direction to make the most of opportunities when things are good.
Alongside your values, your vision should also form the basis for how you make decisions. A clear vision, well articulated and adhered to should at the very least remove much ambiguity around decision-making. But at best, it will allow you to make decisions at a higher, more impactful level.
Study after study, such as this one from MIT, shows that culture and values have a direct correlation on your financial performance. Companies with positive values made real outperform the norm. Companies with those same values, if they are articulated but ignored, underperform.
Meaning that you’re better off not articulating any values if you don’t have a will and a way to follow up on them.
Unlike your vision, which declares a direction of travel, your values articulate what’s important to you in terms of how you do things. These may range from the product-focussed (“to deliver projects at a higher quality than our customers hope for”), to the human (“to respect and support the broader lives of our team”), to the procedural (“to make our work as enjoyable as we can without compromising delivery”), to the altruistic (“to find ways to always add to society with our unique combination of skills”).
I’ll accept that my examples likely suck for most of you. And that’s good. What you articulate should reflect your own priorities.
Values that you actually lead with, and which you reflect in your processes, will end up defining your culture. So if you don’t articulate and lead with them, then if you’re lucky, a culture will form depending on the strongest characteristics that you unconsciously exhibit. Or it will be left to chance and the strength of personality, for better or worse, of influential members in your team.
So in this part of building your foundation, you need to articulate your values, and just as importantly, have a process to turn those values explicitly into reality. It can be done in a relatively straightforward way, but it needs structure and discipline.