Accenture: Visions Give Purpose. Purpose Drive Businesses – Big Time

In today’s digital era, which is fraught with huge risks but also great opportunities, vision gives businesses purpose and stability. Having such a compass is one of the most valuable assets for a C-suite executive to have to hand in today’s boardrooms.

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By Sander van ‘t Noordende, Group Chief Executive Products at Accenture

Henry Ford had a vision: if he could make cars less expensive, more people would buy them. He introduced the assembly line and his vision came to life.

It was a simple tweak that transformed an industry. In today’s digital era, which is fraught with huge risks but also great opportunities, vision gives businesses purpose and stability. Having such a compass is one of the most valuable assets for a C-suite executive to have to hand in today’s boardrooms. Consistently told and, more important, filled with credible life, a vision and is a major tool for keeping a company on the road at acceptable speed.

Having a vision means first having an aspiration, as well as the capacity to see the status quo with uncensored eyes and an open mind to draw conclusions that can get a company onto the right trajectory. More crucially though, forming a powerful vision demonstrates the capacity to paint a business’s yet unrealized future and purpose through a mix of imagination, knowledge, instinct and realism.

From this angle, a vision’s role as central communication mechanism for businesses becomes clear. It tells the world inside and outside of your company what you stand for, what your purpose is and what you are up to. Clients, staff, shareholders and even wider stakeholders such as regulators and the government can name you by your vision. It serves as their, as well as your own north star.

I argue that leading businesses by vision is these days more important than ever. Major technological upheaval and geopolitics are moving and shaking today’s world more than ever before. Market volatility and growing shareholder pressure to generate growth and dividends has become commonplace.

In such a dynamic environment an aspirational vision is a boon. Clearly laid out values, goals and creeds form a business’s cultural framework. They work as the playbook everybody in the organization can reach out to in case that the unexpected happens – something that gets more standard by the day.

You might be surprised to hear that even Accenture’s Product Operating Group – a classic people’s business – thought it a good idea to give its vision a makeover in the face of digital transformation as well as the increasing number of millennials becoming part of our Products Team.

We picked staff and clients as the main two stakeholder groups for consideration. Then, in a process of self-reflection and analysis based on polling our clients and employees, we arrived at “Creating Tomorrow”.  We knew that the vision shouldn’t just be a great one-liner. There is much more required than that, especially around how that vision can be brought to life inside and outside of a business organization.

We found, for instance, that for our people to be inspired by the new digital markets and work styles, they need to feel that their work has purpose.  They also need to see the advantages of collaboration fostered by digital means and that they can keep themselves and their organization nimble by having room to speak their minds in free and unhindered ways.  And as for our clients, “act strictly digital”, “make new connections”, for example by way of joining ecosystems, and “capture customer insights that can feed product and service innovation” emerged as main imperatives of a vision we share with them.

Each business is different. However, I am sure our findings can help our clients to form their own compass for the era of digital transformation – and substantially push their revenues, profits and return on investment while they pivot to the new digital world.

Conceiving a vision does not necessarily mean to arrive at gung-ho, domineering catch phrases to leap forward into the dark at any cost. A corporate vision can also be framed in a rather modest statement of belief, as many good examples show.

When Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft, he conducted a root-and-branch revamp of the tech giant’s strategy vision. It unlocked plenty of enthusiasm as it took staff, clients and shareholders into a realistic future for the company. It told (and still tells) people that running data centers and cloud servers to empower businesses and people of all kind, is considered much more aspirational than being a top-three smartphone maker or search engine operator. Some analysts framed this as “boring but profitable”. Still it helped to catapult Microsoft to a market cap of one-trillion-dollar as one of the most valuable businesses around.

Nadella recalls the moment right after he had circulated the new vision as follows: “Employees responded immediately. In just the first twenty-four hours I heard from hundreds of employees in every part of the company and in every part of the world. They said the language of empowering everyone on the planet to achieve, more inspired them personally, and they saw how it applied to their daily work, whether they were a coder, designer, marketer, or customer-support technician.”

It is not only insightful but also moving to realize what kind of positive emotion and profitable business momentum a powerful purpose-sponsoring vision is able to set free in people.  Let’s hope that in the future, having a vision of empowering people is viewed as just as obvious as a vision of using an assembly line to build cars.


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