Catalyst for growth

Shehara de Silva

Shehara de Silva is a Non-Executive Director of Keells Foods

For Shehara de Silva, a vision statement “is like a line of sight – if you have a clear direction and know where you’re going, it’s easier to get to the desired point.” A vision is important because it is inspiring, as she points out: “A com­pany’s vision should be a catalyst for growth and the polestar that acts as a signpost to an audacious goal.”
“It can also define a marketplace and field of competence – what does it make or do for people; what are its skills? It outlines what the organisation wants to be; or how it wants the world in which it operates to be. It concentrates on the future; it is a source of in-spiration; and it provides clear decision-making criteria,” she elaborates.
De Silva says if one takes the top 10 companies and reads their vision statements, it makes for interesting observations. Some have better sta­te­ments than others but that doesn’t necessarily correlate with company performance. “The devil is in the details! The vision statement should comprise what, why and who,” she maintains.
Tesla’s vision ‘to make the most compelling car in the 21st century by driving the world’s transition to electric vehicles’ is very strong to her: “It says it all – and Tesla has thought of semantics too.”
“The word ‘compelling’ is used as a call for action. Therefore, the Tesla car would make anyone who may transition to its vehicles have a compelling reason such as cost, fuel efficiency, traction, design or whatever their strategy sessions establish as the main drivers in the category from a future market lens,” she evaluates.
Among local brands, de Silva cites Dialog as having one of the more exciting visions she admires as it is more market specific, hint-ing at innovation and promising ‘multi-sensory’ connectivity (thereby hinting at IoT, 5G and other yet unknown technologies) rather than merely ‘telecom.’
This vision statement also elaborates that “the business reason to exist is to always enrich and empower Sri Lankan lives and en-terprise! Quite superb for a company that is foreign owned and regional, and not truly multinational.”
De Silva avers that vision statements are rarely implemented with a rigorous alignment to strategy: “The vision in many of our local companies is merely a motherhood statement – a show-and-tell for annual reports.”
“Really drilling down to how you build a strategy that gets you there, and how you resource and drive teams to outperform market conditions is rarely applied,” she bemoans.
Commenting on whether many companies operate on the basis of vision statements, she states: “Yes and no. Sometimes the vision or lack thereof is part of the problem. A leading local bank that is well run by any consideration has a vision focussed on achieving excellence in service and commitments, and goes on to include a list of stakeholders to whom it aims to deliver optimum value – it’s too general. You can’t be all things to everyone.”
De Silva says that being an island nation, business in Sri Lanka rarely has an appetite for risk: “We also have had huge market volatility – the war, tsunami, pernicious unions now spilling out into the plantations and logistics sectors, a fragile rupee and dys-functional two-party political she­nanigans that have really not pushed the economy to the kind of critical mass that makes for building global companies.”
“Companies that do spend in a cavalier fashion on new markets or franchises and are heavily over-leveraged and poorly run sur-vive on chutzpah rather than business strategy,” she asserts.
In summing up, she believes that vision statements should help catalyse strategic choices and light the path for companies to achieve long-term competitive advantages.