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Why Annual Meetings Are Important

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Nancy Kramer Nancy Kramer
We just wrapped up our annual meeting, which is my favorite time of year. Not only because I get to give people money (which I love), but because it's our official "New Year" celebration -- a reflection of the past year and a presentation of what lies ahead. We establish our specific goals for the upcoming year, and reaffirm our commitment to our core ideology and envisioned future.

Large companies host annual meetings and issue annual reports, defining missions, goals and issuing report cards. It's important for small and medium-sized companies to do the same. As I was preparing this year's meeting, I spent time thinking, as I always do, about our core ideology and envisioned future, terminology borrowed from Jim Collins' framework outlined in his early work, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, and built upon in his more recent book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't. (Before going any further, I must confess I am a huge Collins fan; in fact, I'd categorize it as a full-out professional crush.)

Vision is one of the most important concepts for building great organizations. It's easy to confuse terms such as mission, vision, strategy, purpose and values and create some vague and fuzzy concept. I found the key to establishing (and constantly evaluating) our company vision is by using Collins' conceptual framework and to understand how that framework connects to the underlying DNA of the company. Collins preaches that if you want to be a company that endures over multiple generations (one of my goals), you must comprehend and constantly reinforce your company's core ideology -- a combination of your core purpose (why the company exists) and core values. Everything else about the company can, and should change, but the core ideology never changes.

Collins research also demonstrates that great companies often employ a multi-dimensional strategy he titles the Hedgehog Concept. This approach to strategy, coupled with the company's BHAG (or Big Hairy Audacious Goal), with an illustrative Envisioned Future statement help provide associates with understanding where the company is headed. If you've never gone through this process, it can be a bit like an archaeological dig. Some treasures will be just under the surface; others will require you dig deeper. But I highly recommend it. If you're wondering where to start, JimCollins.com offers an entire suite of fascinating (and free!) diagnostic tools to help companies figure it out.

At our company, we utilize the Collins framework each and every day. We've baked company values into performance evaluations. We have a peer-nominated awards program, honoring the associates that best exemplify our company's core values. Every associate has our 2012 Envisioned Future statement hanging in their pods. BHAG is one of the most beloved company acronyms. And small stuffed hedgehogs grace many of our desks as constant reminders of the importance of sticking to our defined strategy.

2007 was a great year. As our industry faces potentially challenging economic obstacles in 2008, it's especially important to rally the troops and remind them why we're here. Keep associates engaged in the success of your business. Clearly communicate goals and values at every opportunity. The best way to a successful company -- not just this year but 20 years down the road -- is to make sure everyone is headed in the same direction.
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