Looking ahead Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008
Ron Mager says the line between a vision and a mission is often blurry. As owner, president and CEO of Machinery Systems Inc., it’s his job to distinguish between the two and to communicate both to his 67 employees. As he explains it, the mission is what his machine tool distributor does for its customers and the vision is what the company strives to be internally.

For example, he says that if you tell customers that you would like to double your revenue in five years, they won’t care and won’t understand what it means for them. However, by telling employees you want to double revenue in five years, you are creating advancement opportunities and resources for them, so it means something to them.

By keeping that distinction in mind, Mager has created both a vision and mission to continue growing his $115 million company.

Smart Business spoke with Mager about how he created and communicated both his mission and his vision at his $115 million company, without making it a huge rah-rah affair for his employees.

Create the vision. My partner and I developed our visions independently on where we wanted to take the company, and we put the two into one statement.

The vision has to come from the leader — that’s the leader’s job. This is where they want to take the company, and it’s got to come from the heart. Sit down with a blank piece of paper and start scribbling stuff. The vision statement is not necessarily a participative thing. It’s more autocratic — this is where we’re taking the company from a financial perspective. Then we develop how we’re going to do that, and that becomes participative.

It’s important so people know where we’re going, and people want to work for companies that want to prosper and grow because there’s chance for advancement and chances for perks and benefits and employment security.

The vision is the way of communicating that desire.

Create the mission. Align your capabilities to the market demands, and find out what you’re really good at, and that’s your mission.

The easiest way to start is by saying, ‘This is stuff we’re good at, and this is stuff the market wants.’ That may not match 100 percent. Where are your points of differentiation? You could be good at making buggy whips, and you’re in trouble, so it can’t just be what you’re good at.

There are analytical ways to find out whether you’re good at that or if it’s something the market wants. You can do market research. It could be a survey or a focus group, or it could be as simple as talking to your customers. In conversation, you look for things, or sometimes they offer that — ‘How are we doing? What could we do that we’re not doing now? What do you think we’re really good at?’

First, [the mission] communicates to the marketplace what you think you’re good at, and they may be looking at that. Secondly, it communicates to your employees and helps them in their jobs — it speaks about your culture and about what you do for the marketplace, and it’s important for everyone to know that because it should guide their attitude and behavior.

Effectively communicate both the vision and the mission. We do the traditional things — we communicate in the company meetings — but the key is to be sincere about it and not just make it a campaign where you beat everyone over the head with what you’re trying to do because people just tune out.

If you send them an e-mail saying, ‘Remember, our vision statement is this, and our mission statement is this,’ they’ll put you on the blocked senders list. There is a problem with leaders and CEOs not getting it and over-communicating it, and people just block them out, whether it’s a blocked senders list or in their own mind. They just say, ‘Yeah.’ They don’t pay any attention to it. ‘It’s the flavor of the month, it’s not sincere; don’t worry, it’ll change next week, why do I bother listening.’

The best way is to communicate with your actions. The things that you do day to day and the investments you make in the company, you let people know. You’re not beating them over the head. You say, ‘We’re going to invest in some new software this year, and the reason we’re doing it this year is because it’s a platform for growth and part of our vision statement,’ and everyone says, ‘Oh, OK, that’s why we’re doing it.’

You don’t have to beat them over the head with it and have a big rah-rah thing. I don’t think that works.

It’s a fine line — no communication to way too much communication, and you have to find that sweet spot right in the middle. I don’t know how you define that except with experience, judgment and feedback from your key managers. I rely on them.

If I’m going to send out an e-mail to the whole company regarding a particular topic, I’ll say, ‘Do me a favor and look at this — do you think this is a good idea?’ You get some feedback from them, but they have to be people you trust, [who] know your vision and know your mission.

And sometimes they say, ‘That’d be a stupid idea, Ron. Don’t send this,’ and you take their advice.

HOW TO REACH: Machinery Systems Inc., (847) 882-8085 or www.machsys.com