Business Secrets Part 1: Setting a vision for growth

Grey Lemon has conducted a qualitative study to find out why directors in the property and construction sector left big practices and organisations to set up on their own. It revealed some invaluable insights into what big businesses can do to hold onto their talent and to thrive in uncertain times. In our ‘Business Secrets’ blog post series, we will be sharing what businesses and leaders can learn from those who have left.

We are working and living in unprecedented times. Never before has there been so much debate about how we work, where we work, and what brings us fulfilment. Throw into the mix the much talked about ‘Great Resignation’, and it seems like we’re all in the midst of a seismic shift in the way we do business.

Businesses and leaders must adapt. Yet some are afraid to, preferring to keep going as they always have done and hope for the best. This isn’t a winning strategy. It alienates clients, creates a negative culture, and ultimately results in the best talent leaving. Many of this talent then opt to set up on their own, creating new layer of competition for the companies they left behind.

There’s one thing though that can make all the difference and is often the decider between success and failure. It was cited as one of the key reasons why people left an organisation in our study.

So what is it?

The final straw for many was working for an organisation that didn’t have vision - a clear and actionable direction of travel for the business that everyone who worked there could get behind. Without this, many felt rudderless, disconnected and unable to align their professional and personal values to the business. After a while this seeped into frustrations around their role and purpose within the business which often had a knock-on impact on client servicing. No wonder they finally decided to jump ship and set up a company based on their own vision and values!  

Simple and obvious as it might sound, you’d be surprised how many businesses and leaders don’t have a clear vision. Or if they do have one, it hasn’t been reviewed and refreshed for a while, so the leadership aren’t living and breathing it every day and employees are disengaged.

As a business transformation company, we often initially go into a business to help them solve a specific problem they have identified. Yet we invariably end up, after reviewing the company from all angles, finding that the root cause of the problem is a lack of vision or a poorly communicated one. Every business, leader, employee needs a vision to get behind, to get motivated by, in order to get ahead.

What is a vision?

At Grey Lemon we define vision as the process of establishing and galvanising an overarching direction of travel for the organisation and its people. When people know what the company aims to achieve and how, they can then feel part of something bigger than themselves. They can align the vision with their own values and beliefs which helps keep them motivated every day. It gives them a reason to come to work, to do their best for the company, their colleagues and their clients.  

A vision though needs a framework and structure to bring it to life, to make it actionable and measurable within an organisation. It needs to be supported by a mission (who and how) and underpinned by values that are important to the business and the leader. It also must be authentic, aspirational yet achievable, and one that the leaders of the organisation feel wholeheartedly committed to and excited about. If the c-suite embody the vision and lead by example, this will then filter throughout the company.

With a clear, measurable strategy and tactical plan to embed the vision throughout the organisation, it is much easier to grow and nurture a strong, inclusive and supportive culture, where everyone feels valued. When culture aligned to a clear vision permeates throughout the organisation in every action and decision, it is no longer just lip service, it is the bedrock of the organisation. Employees, both present and future, as well clients can then decide if they this culture aligns with their values or not.

As we found in our study, a disconnect from company culture can often be a reason why employees finally decide to leave;

“The reason why we set up a business is because the culture and environment of where we worked was so bad it almost forced us to. If we had been at a place that we had loved and the culture was great, I would have just stayed being an employee doing project management or development management forever.”

The impact of a lack of vision

A leader without a vision is not really a leader. When they or their leadership team don’t have a clear understanding on where the company is heading, it is a recipe for disaster.

There is often a breakdown of trust and respect for the leader, and with a loss of confidence, leadership teams and employees can quickly become disengaged from the business and their roles. They start to question their value and purpose within the organisation and can often also fail to deliver for clients.

As we have seen, companies without a vision during these turbulent times of change and uncertainty have struggled to stay relevant and authentic. Without a vision it becomes much harder to instigate transformation and change. It takes a brave, bold leader to recognise the need for change, but without the foundation of a vision, it will always be an uphill battle to evolve and grow.

A common theme we found in our study was that many who left didn’t believe they were delivering true value for clients, which sat uncomfortably with them. While they had been hired for their specific expertise, many were not trusted to use their knowledge and skills to full effect. Without roles that were clearly aligned to a bigger vision, they felt that they were forced to spread themselves too thinly when servicing clients.

It is no wonder that they wanted to disconnect from the business and set up on their own.

When a leader has a clear vision for the business which employees have bought into, they can more easily trust others to do their job well and to play to their strengths. Without this resentment, employee attrition and high staff turnover can quickly spiral. In addition to the financial cost of this, it’s also a turn-off for other potential employees who can see a high churn of staff leaving.

It’s not just our insight that supports this. A 2018 survey of 2,000 employees by Rungway found that 52% couldn’t recall their company’s vision.  When there’s a lack of clarity between an employer’s vision and the employees’ understanding of that vision employee engagement is undermined. The result is that productivity falters, employee absence rises and employee retention rates fall.

So how can you make sure your organisation has a vision?

The benefits and opportunities of having a vision are clear. Yet even the most successful businesses and leaders should engage in a regular process of checking and challenging their vision. From making sure that employees know and are tuned into the vision, to ensuring it’s still relevant for the organisation’s business maturity and future plans. During these challenging and uncertain times, having a clear vision is more important than ever. Agile businesses will always have an advantage over their competitors - both in terms of attracting and retaining talent as well as clients.

So where does your business stand on having a vision? Maybe it’s time to get honest and ask yourself some questions:

  • Do I really know the direction the business is going?
  • Do I actually have a vision set down in stone?
  • Does my leadership team and employees know what the vision is?
  • How often do I review or refresh my vision with my leadership team?
  • Is my vision truly aligned with the core business strategy and embedded throughout the organisation?
  • What can I do to better communicate my vision throughout the organisation, so everyone is onboard?

What’s next…

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What’s your experience of creating and embedding a vision within your organisation? What have been the biggest challenges and opportunities?

If you’d like to find out more of Grey Lemon’s insights into creating a vision, we can share a copy of our speaker notes from a talk we did recently at Management Today’s Leadership Lessons event. Please email us at for a copy.

We will be sharing part 2 of our ‘Business Secrets’ blog series with you soon…

You know your business.

We help you see it through fresh eyes.


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