On the wall of my company office there is a large inscription:
We Help Clients Implement Their Dreams
Note that the inscription refers to dreams, not goals. There is a difference. Goals are essential, the very stuff of successful business growth. But goals are the junior partners of something bigger.
When Bill Gates founded Microsoft, he had a dream of seeing a PC on every desk. This was in the antediluvian epoch of massive mainframes occupying thousands of square feet. You couldn’t call Gates’s dream a goal. It was too remote and unreasonable. Rather, it was a creative vision, an idea of the possible. It saturated his company and shaped its DNA, while he was busy meeting goals like raising finance and making a deal with IBM. Though it has effectively been fulfilled, the spirit of that founding idea still characterizes the Microsoft ethos. It is part of what makes Microsoft the global master it is today.
I encourage you to plan your external growth in relation to your dreams, not just your goals. The reason is that an acquisition impacts your company’s core, its essential personality, like almost nothing else. If you focus too much on immediate goals, like hitting a certain revenue level or capturing a targeted market share, you risk betraying that original dream. The price to pay for that can be devastating in terms of problematic integration or a completely failed acquisition.
In my experience, few company owners are exclusively motivated by money. Most have a vision of something they want to contribute to their industry or to the world at large. This may be very specific, like an exciting advance in production efficiencies, or it may be broad, like a new model of how to help clients solve problems. As the Microsoft example illustrates, these big-picture ambitions are not a peripheral luxury. They permeate the company from top to bottom.
So how do you identify what I am calling the company dream? It’s really about going upstream, looking at your goals, and asking: Why is this important? Eventually, as you ask that question repeatedly, you arrive at the founding values of your enterprise, its reason for existence.