What’s Your Vision? Get Back to Looking Forward

The pandemic forced many distribution leaders to focus on day-to-day operations. Dirk Beveridge advises on how to turn focus back to future opportunities.
The pandemic forced many distribution leaders to focus on day-to-day operations. Dirk Beveridge advises on how to turn focus back to future opportunities.

Without vision, there is no change, transformation or innovation.

Following the pandemic, many leaders in distribution became so ensnared in their day-to-day operations that they lost sight of the opportunities that lie ahead.

This is certainly understood when a black-swan event such as the pandemic impacts your business in an existential way. But we cannot lose sight that it is incumbent upon you as a leader to clearly define a future reality that you and your team can actively work to achieve.

What made us successful yesterday may not make us successful tomorrow. We must continually evaluate our business models, goals and beliefs. We must define exactly how we are going to remain sustainable and relevant, and we must communicate that to our teams.

Throughout my research and conversations with leaders in this industry, I have found the answer is innovation.

But we cannot have innovation without vision.

Vision is your North Star. Your vision must define a future reality that your organization can rally around. That is a catalyst that will break your company free from the status quo.

Your ability to craft a meaningful, inspiring and relevant vision is the difference between:

  • Stasis and Change
  • Plateauing and Growth
  • Triviality and Significance

A clear vision turns objections into objectives. How? By applying significance, purpose and meaning to our work lives.

For The Granite Group, a plumbing supplies distributor, a vision wasn’t about growing the company by a set number of branches or reaching a certain revenue figure. The Granite Group decided its vision is to create a “dynamic and durable growth engine for its people.” That vision has inspired and guided the company. They are thriving today.

In 1988, Andrew Berlin believed that the company he had just purchased — and renamed to Berlin Packaging — was in business not to sell packaging, but to improve the net income of its customers.

It was the basis for his own guiding principles at Berlin. It didn’t happen on day one or day 100. He worked at it until it became a fact in his organization.

That belief is still part of the DNA of that organization, even now, after he’s left the $3 billion+ organization he built up from less than $70 million in a little over three decades.

That’s what vision can do, and it’s time to get back to looking forward again.

When the pandemic struck, distributors took on an undeniably difficult task — taking care of their people, their customers and their businesses.

Change has been unrelenting. It’s no wonder so many distributors feel they are getting lost in the fog of uncertainty.

  • “My phone is ringing because my supply chain has failed my customer.”
  • “I have 15 trucks to load today, and half my staff is out sick.”
  • “My customer has to shut down their lines due to lack of supply.”

The fact is, this fog of uncertainty has trapped many distributors in the present.

They’re focused on what’s in front of them. Lead times. Inflation. Labor shortage.

I had dinner with the CEO of a $50 million distributor about the disruptive forces facing the industry. In the middle of conversation, he paused, with no words spoken for over a minute. He took a sip of wine, looked at me and said: “The sad thing is, I have no vision for the future.”

He’s not alone. Most distributors today have not defined their future reality.

But we’re now solidly out of that crisis moment. It’s time that distributors dream the dream again. Stop focusing on the tyranny of the urgent and start embracing the freedom of your vision. Your vision will do two things:

  • Create deeper value in your organization.
  • Put you back in the driver seat.

What if Apple was stuck and not focused on a bigger vision? There wouldn’t be an Apple Watch, only progressively better iPhones.

If Walt Disney were focused on the day-to-day – drawing a better mouse – there’d be no Disney World. Bringing it back to distribution, if Grainger had only focused on making the will call experience better, they’d never have looked out to the future to understand where ecommerce was going to fit in. They built their ecommerce platform years ahead of most in distribution and secured an edge because of it.

Breaking free is not easy. Creating a vision for your company is hard work. The visioning process requires conversations, explorations and deep thinking. To help, I’ve created a four-phase approach.

Phase 1: Evaluate your own leadership mindset.

A leader must look internally to uncover their true mindset and biases. Does the leader believe in their ability to shape their future, or are they overwhelmed by the speed of change and just riding the wave? Are they locked into short-term results or willing to invest in long-term thinking? If a leader believes they are at the mercy of manufacturers, inflation and the labor shortage, there’s no need to pursue vision. If they are unwilling to look to the future, the next three steps won’t matter.

Phase 2: Understand the confluence of change.

At this phase, a leader must acknowledge the megatrends that are happening outside of their control. When they understand these, they can begin to connect the dots on how these changes could affect both their business and their customers’ businesses. Which will make it into their marketplace, and which won’t have a big impact?

Phase 3: Look to the future.

Distributors must decide where they are going to place their bets. What is the existential threat to the business that when turned on its side can create significant opportunities? Leaders must expand their minds to consider how those opportunities will evolve over the next 10 years and start building scenarios to aid decision-making. What if online moves from 20% of your business to 95% of your business? What if you can only operate with 70% of your total workforce? What if the five largest manufacturers consolidate to two?

Phase 4: Create a three- to five-year vision.

What are you going to truly bet on? Define where you want to be in three to five years. What’s your value proposition? This is when you put pen to paper and define who you want to become.

As a leader, you are in the vision business and always have been.

The question is: Will you give yourself the time and freedom to create the vision that speaks to you?

How are you constructing a vision with purpose for your business?

  • Do you have a well-articulated vision or dream for your future?
  • Does your business’s future reality align with your dream?
  • Are you ready to dream that dream out loud?
Dirk Beveridge

Dirk Beveridge is the founder of UnleashWD, Executive Producer at We Supply America, President of the Beveridge Consulting Group and Champion for the noble calling of distribution for over 36 years. His one-of-a-kind perspective on the future of wholesale distribution has guided his mission to advance the growth, relevance and transformation of the industry, helping distributors thrive. Learn more about Dirk by visiting WeSupplyAmerica.net.

Editor’s Note: Dirk will be one of the featured speakers at MDM’s upcoming SHIFT | The Future of Distribution in-person industry summit, to be held Sept. 27-29 in Broomfield, Colorado. The event will feature 30+ speakers who will address a myriad of topics vital to distributors’ sales, digital and data analytics transformation and provide attendees with the change management tools their business needs to succeed.

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