Know thyself Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

Dennis P. Drent says that you can’t lead others if you can’t first lead yourself, so you need to develop your self-awareness and know who you are and what your values are. In turn, that self-awareness will allow you to develop a vision for your organization.

Drent has developed a vision for Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. that will not only help the pet insurance company continue to grow, but it’s also one that he believes in and can live each day.

“You do have to have that natural passion for the business and believe in what the business does, and if you don’t have that, any other vision will be false, and people are going to see through it, and it’s not going to work,” says the company’s president and CEO. “The key is you have to actually believe it.”

Creating a strong vision that he believes in has helped Drent grow the company to 2007 revenue of $148.9 million with 425 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Drent about how to create a vision for the future of your company.

Determine the present and future. You have to figure out where you’re at — here’s where we’re at today, what realistically can we accomplish with the company, what do we want to accomplish with it, where do we want it to be in three years, five years, 10 years? Then start working backward.

It has to be genuine. You have to believe in the noble purpose of your vision. People want to do business with a company that is transparent, trustworthy, caring and easy to do business with.

Transparency is underpromising and overdelivering. Trust starts with simply being competent. Customers begin to trust you when you deliver on basic promises with no hassle. The company must demonstrate character. Character mostly includes doing the right things for the right reasons.

Company values need to be well-defined and communicated to all employees.

If you’re just in it to make money and you’re not genuine about your vision ... if your real vision is, ‘I just want to get rich,’ anything else you do ... people are going to see through it because your behavior is going to be all about making money. So you have to have a genuine vision of what you want the organization to do.

Understand what the vision means for your employees. You have to look at understanding what’s in it for the people. You have to think about what’s in it for the employees. The vision has to be compelling to the employees, as well, what’s in it for them and try to convince them.

Most employees assume the CEO is in it for the money and is overpaid. Part of selling your vision is to convince employees you are genuinely concerned about customers and employees as much as making money for your shareholders and yourself.

Once people realize you are genuinely trying to improve the lives of everyone — customers, employees and shareholders — you gain credibility, and they are more likely to follow your lead.

It’s a good idea to first see what the employees think the vision is or should be. Ask them what they think are the company values. Whatever the vision, it has to be genuine and have some greater purpose that employees can feel good about. The vision has to provide guidance, set expectations, inspire and give employees a glimpse of what’s in it for them.

People always want to know where you’re going. ... They want to know why you’re going there and want to understand it so they want to be able to buy in. They want to know that where you’re going they can sign up for that because it meets their values and what they’re trying to accomplish in their lives.

If you don’t have that, you resort to sort of the herding cats, people go all over the place, there’s no alignment to what people do every day to where the organization is trying to go, and without that alignment, you don’t know where you’re going to end up. If you don’t put that stake in the ground, the organization can’t get aligned behind it, and therefore, you don’t know where you’re going to end up.

Communicate. A visual aid is helpful in conveying a vision to employees. A leader needs to talk about the vision all the time.

The more you talk about the vision and test it against decisions that are made, the more clarity you get. It’s an evolving process. The core vision stays the same. You just get a deeper understanding of what it means to live the vision the more you put it to work.

The best way to reinforce the vision is to ensure every decision you make is congruent with the vision.

Give people time to align with the vision. Be patient. Give people time to align themselves to that vision, because you just don’t pronounce a vision and everybody jumps on board. It takes a lot of repetition and a lot of communication in different ways for it to take hold.

Each person is different. Some people will accept the vision immediately as they will see the benefits to both the company and themselves. Perhaps, most people fall into the category of waiting to see if the vision is lasting and determine what is in it for them. This takes about two years. After two years, there will still be a portion of the organization, say 10 to 20 percent, that will remain skeptical. After two years, however, these folks will begin to select out of the company.

There will, of course, be the approximately 5 percent of people who will always see the company in adversarial terms.

HOW TO REACH: Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., (714) 989-0555 or