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“It’s Deciding What’s Worth Fighting For”

It’s not the fighting that’s hard.

It’s deciding what’s worth fighting for.

– Fafnyr the Dragon


Few books have captivated my elementary-school-age kids like Rebecca Rupp’s tales of the three-headed dragon, Fafnyr Goldenwings. The quote in the title is from a story that Fafnyr tells about a boy who wants to be a knight fighting dragons…until he meets Fafnyr and learns that he’d rather befriend dragons than battle them.


The Phimation team is working with two new clients to develop visions for their businesses and recently revised the visions of two long-standing clients. So when I read that Fafnyr quote to my kids a few weeks ago, I realized he was also describing the importance of a vision to a second stage company.


After all, the leadership teams of small businesses don’t have a problem doing the work that needs to be done – working hard is a part of what they love. “It’s not the fighting that’s so difficult.”


The “fighting” – the working hard – is the hallmark of a Stage 1 company, as it focuses on its own survival. But a Stage 1 company usually has little need for a vision of what its future looks like. First, the team is mostly reacting in the moment to customers and often shifting its business model substantially, so a vision is hard to pin down. Second, a Stage 1 team is small, so they are constantly in battles together and are forced to be on the same page.


But the question Fafnyr asks – what’s worth fighting for – becomes important as a company moves from Stage 1 to Stage 2 because there are more staff and more customers, and they will head in different directions without a unifying vision.


Also, in Stage 2 there are many more options open to the business, and resources available to pursue those options, and so the leadership team needs a framework to guide its decisions.


So, what does a good vision look like? I think there are two important elements.


First, the vision should create buy-in and alignment. Simply having the CEO develop a vision and tell everyone what it is, does not accomplish the objective. The value of the vision is in its influence on day-to-day actions, and to get that value, the process of developing the vision needs to create buy-in – in the leadership team or, preferably, throughout the company.


Second, the vision should be specific, because that specificity is what guides day-to-day actions.


Most visions that I see have few specifics. Instead, they say something like, “We will maintain our industry-leading products while serving the needs of our customers and developing our employees.” A statement like that is great to communicate, and the process of getting everyone to recognize those goals is quite valuable. But a general vision like that does a poor job of showing leaders and staff what they should think about when they make decisions.


If you are a second stage company and don’t have a vision, you would make your life substantially better, and improve the performance of your business, if you developed one. If you already have a vision, see whether everyone in the company is committed to it, and whether it has the specificity to help your leaders make decisions.


In my next post, I’ll offer some advice about the specifics that I look for in a vision.


Click here to read more posts like this on Crain’s Detroit Business.

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