Achieving Vision Alignment: The 6 Actions You Can Take

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Built to Last" by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is vision alignment? How can you achieve it for your organization?

Visionary companies create and maintain vision alignment. They infuse their core ideology into everything they do, which brings everything into alignment with their vision. It’s not easy, but there are six things you can do to achieve organizational alignment.

Read more to learn about the value and process of vision alignment.

Vision Alignment Is Crucial to Success

It’s a myth that a vision statement is integral to a visionary company’s success. These days, it seems like every company has a vision statement. A vision is a combination of a strong core philosophy and the type of progress you want for your company, so having a clear vision can be useful. But it’s only the first step—the real work is in bringing the vision to life. 

Visionary companies try to bring their vision to life by incorporating their core philosophy into everything they do, from setting audacious goals to building an elite corporate culture, to evolving continuously and developing generations of leaders. Most importantly, visionary companies make sure their methods of maintaining the core and stimulating progress are aligned with each other. 

How to Create Vision Alignment

Vision alignment means that every element within a company—from decisions and actions to BHAGs to office layout and company culture—reinforces every other element within the company. When a company doesn’t have alignment, their progress will be slowed, hindered by forces constantly opposing each other.

Seeking vision alignment is a tricky, never-ending process, but there are six actions that can help:

1) Take a Big-Picture Approach

Visionary companies use a comprehensive, carefully thought-out, and consistent system to achieve the yin and yang of maintaining the core and stimulating progress. All the threads are interwoven to create a vibrant tapestry. You can’t take a single element—a core ideology, BHAGs, evolution, a cult-like culture, management development—and create a masterpiece. It takes all of these things working together. Before you introduce a new policy, practice, or goal, make sure that it makes sense within your existing architecture.

2) Pay Attention to the Details 

While a big picture is nice to look at, the small details are vital. Employees have a greater drive to achieve the vision when they see small, day-to-day signals and cues that the company is committed to it at every level, and feel that they’re an important part of the journey.   

  • For example, When Philip Morris sends employees home with a box of cigarettes along with their paychecks, it sends a strong signal that the company believes in its business and what it stands for, no matter what the outside world says. 

3) Put Together Mechanisms That Reinforce Each Other

Visionary companies don’t introduce anything arbitrarily. When they bring in a new policy or process, they make sure that it works in alignment with existing elements so that they reinforce each other. If a company says that innovation is a core value, the company puts mechanisms in place to deliver that message clearly and consistently, such as discontent, reward systems, and goals.  

  • For example, George Merck’s vision for Merck was to preserve and improve human life through science-based innovation. Everything the company did sent a powerful message that science rules at Merck: They recruited top scientists, allowed them to publish their work in scientific journals, and prohibited marketing from getting involved in the research process.

4) Be Guided by Your Core 

Visionary companies don’t let trends dictate their actions; rather than asking if a practice is “good” or “bad,” they ask if it’s something that’s aligned with their core. While it’s necessary to be grounded in reality and pay attention to what’s going on in the outside world, vision alignment means making decisions based on what’s appropriate to you. 

  • For example, many restaurants are now affiliated with third-party food delivery companies. If you have a small restaurant that values personalized service, you might decide that signing on for such a service isn’t aligned with your core as you’re unable to stay on top of the delivery process. 

5) Eliminate Misalignments 

While your core philosophy should remain sacred, everything else can evolve. Be careful here: When a company lets their non-core practices evolve, it’s all too easy to allow practices and policies that push the company away from its core philosophy or slow down progress. These can include reward systems that incentivize behaviors that aren’t aligned with the core philosophy, a clunky organizational structure, an inefficient office layout, and so on. Stay vigilant and correct these misalignments.

  • For example, if one of your core values is teamwork but you reward your people based on individual performance, then change your reward system so that it recognizes team achievements.

6) Come Up With New Methods

The ideas presented in this book are all based on methods visionary companies have used to varying degrees. Some visionary companies used more BHAGs, others used more mechanisms of discontent. You can make use of these methods to see what works for your company, but you don’t have to stop there. Experiment with new ways of maintaining the core and stimulating progress—as long as they’re true to your core philosophy.

How to Start Building a Visionary Company

Overall, the four key concepts behind enduring greatness are:

  1. Focusing on clock building, not time telling.
  2. Tapping into the power of believing in and.
  3. Embracing the yin and yang of maintaining the core and stimulating progress.
  4. Keeping everything aligned. 

Four concepts sound simple enough. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but with this framework, you can start applying these concepts, no matter who you are. Apply them to your organization, your fledgling business, or your team. Amplify your efforts by helping others around you understand the concepts and take them to heart. And always remember that enduring greatness, though challenging, is within your reach.

Achieving Vision Alignment: The 6 Actions You Can Take

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She has always appreciated nonfiction, especially about history, politics, and ideas. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. As a former intelligence analyst and a teacher of critical thinking skills, Elizabeth enjoys analyzing arguments on all sides of an issue. Her nonfiction preferences include theology, science, and philosophy. She studies the intersection of these three in pursuit of the highest truths. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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