To do well in business today, you need to get a few things right: your product range and service offering; marketing, distribution and sales; a stable and productive workforce; an efficient administration, plus a good handle on the financials.
But to truly transform your business, to take it to the next level and beyond, you need to do more than just the basics, as critical as they are. You need leadership that can view the bigger picture with passion, clarity and boldness.
One of the most powerful things an entrepreneur or leader can do is set the vision for their company or organisation, and then put in place a plan and a process of accountability to ensure the business focuses on the goal it has set for itself.
When I say ‘vision’, I’m really talking about a lofty long-term goal, something big and chunky to aim for; something that will get the blood pumping, that will excite and energise you and the team as you set about trying to attain it.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” — Bill Gates
In their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras coined the phrase ‘Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal’, or BHAG for short.
They described BHAG as a long-term goal - think: 10 to 25 years - guided by a company’s core values and purpose.
At my company, The Physio Co, we set a 10-year time-lock on our big goal. We call it our ‘10-year obsession’.
We have only recently hit the 10-year target we set for ourselves and have since set another BHAG to aim for. I’ll go into more detail on how we did this later in the article.
But first, let’s kick off with a recent example that I think represents best-practice when it comes to setting a 10-year goal.
1. Richmond Football Club
In the last four years, the Richmond Football Club has won three Australian Football League (AFL) premiership flags and in doing so, has created a dynasty in our country’s biggest and most popular sporting competition.
The starting point for that amazing run of recent premierships started off-field with a brave plan set by then newly-installed CEO, Brendan Gale, and the Richmond board, back in 2010.
For context, Richmond - once a footy powerhouse - had struggled for many years, both on and off the field. Many other clubs had cemented their positions at the top of the AFL tree but Richmond, with a track record of firing coaches if they weren’t successful quickly, had become a bit of a laughing stock.
The vision Gale and the board set out in 2010 was big - and hairy, and audacious! It was made up of several seemingly un-achievable goals:
- to grow to 75,000 paid-up members (up from 35,000);
- to pay off $1 million of debt, and
- to win three premierships by 2020.
Gale and the Richmond Tigers were publicly challenged and somewhat ridiculed when their long-term plan became public, but the CEO stood by their goals. Indeed, Gale went on TV to further press his point:
"I make no apologies for the fact that we want to be the best football club," Gale said at the time.
The on-field goal of winning three premierships in 10 years, particularly, was pie-in-the-sky thinking, everyone believed. Everyone, that is, except those within the four walls of the Richmond footy club.
Brendan and team dared to dream, but more importantly, they documented the plan, and then they got to work bringing it to life.
“It's a vision of greatness and leadership that we describe as THE POWER and THE GLORY,” Gale said, in announcing the plan.
Which brings us to 2020 and the Tigers, to the astonishment (and admiration) of the footy public, have systematically ticked off all of those goals.
They’ve wiped out their debt (and reportedly have cash reserves of $24.4 million); their membership has hit the 100,000 mark for three consecutive years, and most importantly, they’ve won three premierships in the past four seasons.
Would Richmond be as successful in 2020 without a clear long-term plan to make good decisions, get the right people in the right seats and execute relentlessly on their goals?
2. The Physio Co.
In the very first year of running our business, The Physio Co (TPC), I had a clear-ish vision of firstly creating myself a job and then progressing to generating enough work to build a small business of 6-10 team members.
That vision was fine when it was just me, but as the business started to grow, the future lost its clarity.
For the next five years or so, the vision, for me, was positive, exciting … and vague as vague could be. It was in my head, rarely clarified, never documented for anyone else, and changed whenever I heard of another “great idea” from around the traps.
I wrote in my book Culture Is Everything that, after five years and with blind enthusiasm, TPC had grown from one person with an idea to a team of 20-odd. But with no clear vision, the organisation was essentially directionless.
In 2009, after deciding there had to be a better way of growing a small business, and discovering some important mentors including authors Jim Collins, Verne Harnish and Cameron Herold, plus Aussie entrepreneurs Emma Isaacs and Naomi Simson, I worked with a small group of our team members to ‘document the future’.
Together, we set a long term vision of delivering two million unique and memorable client consultations over the next 10 years. In our hearts, we knew this goal was somewhat achievable, but it was still massively daunting.
Celebrating 2 million unique and memorable client consultations at TPC
But it galvanised us. From close to a standing start, the team and I went about developing the TPC business in a way that would make our target achievable.
At times the goal felt insurmountable. To get there we had to grow the number of consultations we delivered by approximately 35 per cent per year, every year. Some years we smashed our annual target and celebrated, other years we missed. We could easily have thrown in the towel, but we didn’t. At times it was two steps forward and one step back. At other times it felt like two steps back and one step forward. But at all times, we kept our eye on the prize.
Our future was documented, so we kept going. We kept adjusting. We kept finding a better way. We stayed focussed.
The results speak for themselves: this year - after a memorable 11 and half years - the team at The Physio Co delivered an average of 174,000 consultations a year to our clients, adding up to two million unique and memorable client consultations. We got there! Yes, it took us 18 months longer than anticipated, but we held the course and hit the mark.
Would that fledgling business with 20 team members in 2009 have grown to a 150-person team that delivered 2 million client consults without a bold, documented and relentlessly executed long term plan? Absolutely no way!
TPC’s 10-year obsession was the ‘north star’ that guided us year in, and year out.
We have since created our second 10-year obsession: from January 1, 2019, to December 31, 2028, we will help our senior clients set and achieve 2,028,000 meaningful health goals!
3. Red Balloon
One of those early mentors I reached out to in 2009 was Naomi Simson. You may know Naomi as a judge on the TV show Shark Tank Australia, however, I know Naomi as the purpose-driven, goals-focused founder of RedBalloon, a company that sells “enriching experiences and unique experience gifts” to the public and corporate sector.
Naomi and her Sydney-based team have been committed to setting decade-long goals to align their employees and grow their business.
According to this article by Verne Harnish on the Growth Institute blog, Naomi reasoned that to truly change gift-giving in Australia forever, RedBalloon needed to touch the lives of 10 per cent of Australians. At the time there were 20 million Australians, so RedBalloon’s BHAG was set to “2 million experiences sold in 10 years”.
It was an aggressive goal, Verne writes, given that in 2005 when it was set, RedBalloon had sold only 7500 experiences.
But it worked: the company achieved its goal two years before its 2015 target date and continues to grow to this day.
Indeed, RedBalloon recently released its latest 10-year vision to “serve an experience, sustainably, every second somewhere on earth by 2030”.
Wow, that’s BIG!
At this very early stage, Naomi and her team are serving an experience approximately every 49,440 seconds. They’ve got a long way to go. Will they get there? Only time will tell. But without a goal that they’re brave enough to document and chase down, the answer will always be no.
What about your business?
Are you ready to transform your business by setting and documenting a big vision, a 10-year obsession that you and your team can strive towards?
As you can see from the examples in this article, a long-term vision that’s agreed to by an organisation’s leadership - that’s documented and made public - is the key starting point.
But you need to be bold.
You need to be brave.
And you need to stay the course.
But the rewards will be worth it.