Vision and Values: Insights From the Book Scaling Up

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Scaling Up" by Verne Harnish. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does the book Scaling Up say about your business’s vision and values? How do they impact growth?

In his book Scaling Up, Verne Harnish discusses what you need to do to successfully guide your business as it grows from a small company or sole proprietorship into a firm employing hundreds or thousands of people. He argues that, first, you must articulate a clear vision for what you ultimately want your company to be—anchored by a core set of values.

Keep reading for insights from the book Scaling Up.

Business Wisdom From the Book Scaling Up

In his book Scaling Up, Verne Harnish asserts that you must clearly articulate your vision and values to keep your business growing.

Articulate Your Vision

According to Harnish, scaling up requires the articulation of a grand vision, an idea about not just how much the company will do, but more deeply, what it primarily exists to do. Ultimately, a vision is about what ultimate “state” or identity the company aspires to achieve. Bringing this vision into focus and aligning all company activities toward its achievement is what a strategy is for.

For example, a furniture retailer might have a vision of being the nation’s largest, best-known, and most-trusted name for families looking to decorate the home of their dreams. Or an investment bank might have a vision of being the financial world’s leader in “green” investments.

Beyond just an “About Us” section on your website, your vision is the “why” that should anchor every decision your company makes. And studies show that defining this vision makes a significant difference to your customers and employees. A survey conducted by EY and Harvard Business school found that, of 474 executives surveyed, 89% agreed that a company’s sense of purpose was an important contributor to employee satisfaction. However, fewer than half of the executives surveyed—46%—said that their business currently operates with a clear vision and sense of purpose.

Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, similarly argues that business growth has to be rooted in an ultimate purpose or vision. But, he adds, it must be specific for it to be useful. You have to envision some ultimate state you want your company to attain or the position you want it to be in. Simply wanting to be “bigger” or more profitable doesn’t provide any concrete guidance on the steps you should take to get there. 

Articulate Your Values

In the book Scaling Up, Harnish writes that the vision must be grounded in your company’s values. Indeed, the vision is the ultimate expression of those values. Values are the rules, norms, and standards that guide conduct. According to Harnish, all employees should have a keen understanding of what those values are and use them as their compass to guide every action and decision.

For example, one of a retail chain’s values might be, “We strive to provide excellent service and an unmatched buying environment for all our customers.” This will then inform how employees in every department and at every phase of the sales cycle will do their jobs—from sourcing the best suppliers to the layout and decor of physical stores to the demeanor and presentation of frontline staff. 

A crucial component of your company’s values, according to the book Scaling Up, is how effectively and compellingly you tell your story. Harnish says that story is more than just a company history. It speaks to something much deeper—your company’s reason for being, the fundamental problem that it solves, and, most importantly, the ultimate vision for what it aspires to be.

(Shortform note: Some companies favor a bottom-up, crowdsourcing process to develop core values, in which people split into separate groups during weekly meetings to discuss and debate what the company’s essential and unique qualities and commitments are. From there, the company as a whole can evaluate each group’s ideas, identify patterns and commonalities, use a voting process to narrow them down, and turn them into value statements in a collaborative process.)

Find Your Points of Excellence

The book Scaling Up further asserts that successfully articulating your values hinges on your company being able to cite its points of excellence—those things your company does that are unique, create customer value, and are difficult to copy.

Your points of excellence can be a wide variety of things—a certain proprietary technology (like Coca-Cola’s famously protected trade secret for its soft drink recipe), your ubiquitous presence in a wide variety of geographical markets (like McDonald’s or Starbucks) or a unique process of production (like the Ford Motor Company’s assembly line production in the early 20th century). (Shortform note: The concept of points of excellence is closely tied to what marketing experts call “brand personality.” A brand personality is the set of emotional attributes you want customers to ascribe to your brand, as if they were talking about an actual human being. This matters because whether you’re a consumer-facing brand or a B2B company, customers are looking for a relationship with a “personality” that meets their needs and expectations. Your brand personality is the foundation upon which customers will build a relationship with your company, develop loyalty to it, and come to see it as offering something unique that they can’t find anywhere else.)

Vision and Values: Insights From the Book Scaling Up

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Verne Harnish's "Scaling Up" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Scaling Up summary :

  • Advice on how to guide your company as it grows from a small company to a large firm
  • Why founders need to eventually give up some of their input and power
  • How to build an all-star team—from senior leadership to rank-and-file

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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