Vision – Focus on the Future, Don’t Replicate the Past

Published by Mark Zerbach on

STRETCHING NORMAL – LEADERSHIP COURSE

Leadership Article Series

Summary

If you want to grow and improve your business, you must establish a vision. Having a vision that differs from your existing state implies a commitment to create change. Once established, you begin the incremental process of introducing that vision into the workplace and cementing it into your culture and processes. The responsibility for making the vision a reality falls on the group’s leader, but requires input and involvement from all parties. Having a vision is key for improvement in any company, not just for those that are struggling.

Key Terms

  • Vision: a clear understanding of how things could or should be in an organization
  • Mental image: a clear snapshot of the end result of vision implementation
  • Preferable future: a future reality that is better than the current reality
  • Existing state: the status quo that is to be replaced as a new vision is implemented
  • Vision statement: a concise wording of an organization’s vision
  • Vision story: the narrative of the vision statement, written in full detail

Concept

If you are satisfied with your group’s existing state, then establishing and implementing a vision are not important. However, as a leader you are likely aware of ways your group could be more productive. Rather than chase individual changes, a leader should establish a vision. A vision is a clear mental image of a preferable future that is based on an accurate understanding of both current and potential circumstances. A vision should be broad enough to include yourself, your employees, your core competencies, your processes, etc. Ideally, the vision should take years to attain and make a substantial difference; otherwise it is not a vision.

The process of creating change through vision begins, of course, by seeing what your preferable future would look like. This process must involve an assessment of the company’s values. These values tell the organization and the individuals in it what’s important. Understanding your values ties in directly with what “preferable” means for your preferable future; they will shape your understanding of how you want things to be.

In addition to your values, there are several other elements that require thoughtful consideration. You must understand your present state of existence to be able to reach your preferable future.

Start by finding honest answers to questions like these:

  • What is driving your decisions today?
  • Will you be able to still be in business two, five, or ten years from now?
  • Is your organization performing at its potential?
  • Are the employees excited to come to work each morning?
  • What is your competition doing?
  • Are you noticeably better than your competition?
  • Can you maintain the edge you have over competitors?
  • Is your organization being managed or led?
  • How can you measure every action against this vision?

Realize that leaders who intend to introduce a new vision are staking their career on the belief that the vision will lead to a better place. One of the worst things to do to yourself and your employees is to grab something that is working somewhere else and try and force it onto the organization with the hope that it will be a “silver bullet” and solve problems you haven’t even analyzed. This approach will always fail because it doesn’t take into consideration the existing culture and set of values. A vision has to have the ability to change the culture from within; it must paint a picture of a better future for people. Only when your people own the vision will they see the opportunities it provides and how it can play out in their sphere of influence.

While the creation and implementation of a vision should involve all employees, the leader of a group plays the most important role in both the development and implementation of the vision. It doesn’t matter who in your organization decides change needs to happen; you, as the leader, must be the one to oversee the vision and make sure it becomes a reality. It all starts with you – your ability to express where you want your organization to head, and how you get others on board.

The most effective way to make that happen is to understand the needs and situations of everyone who will be affected by the changes the vision will bring. You will need to maintain a good dialogue with your people as you move the vision forward in stages. Throughout the process, be very sensitive to people’s areas of concern. You need their buy-in to make this happen, and you won’t get it without them asking many questions. In the beginning, you will have to “run the trap line” frequently, as there will be a lot a questions. You won’t have all the answers, but even if you did, you shouldn’t try to give everyone an answer. Tap into your group’s resources by asking them how they think they could resolve their concerns with the vision. Over time, they will learn how to implement the vision in their particular area, which means the transfer of ownership of the vision is being passed into the hands of those whom it affects most.

If you find that your people are not responding to the vision the way you would like, look first to how to improve your leadership skills. Stop and ask yourself questions like these:

  • Why is this vision so important right now?
  • Have I established myself as an effective leader in people’s eyes?
  • Am I providing clear direction on the vision?
  • Is the organization aligned to easily arrive at the preferable future?
  • Am I communicating effectively and doing so through all available channels?

If you can’t clearly articulate the vision to yourself and others, you will not be able to lead effectively. I have found that most leaders need to begin by writing a vision story, and then summarize it into a vision statement. The story will help you solidify your ideas, as well as provide an invaluable resource for introducing the vision to others. The vision story, as well as the vision statement, should be referred back to many times throughout the change process to ensure you’re staying on course.

You’ll find that the vision will start to be realized in your organization as each person adopts it. They will see that the vision aligns everyone’s collective actions and that there is a positive outcome, and they will find satisfaction in knowing that they are part of that positive change.

Once a clear vision has been established, shared, and everyone has “bought in,” the vision must still be operationalized if it’s going to be of any worth. This is accomplished by breaking down the process of arriving at the preferable future you’ve established into a series of specific goals, strategies, and tactics. This is how those three items are defined:

→Goals: measurable outcomes that relate to the organization’s mission and values

→Strategies: general approaches designed to facilitate realizing specific goals

→Tactics: specific actions that relate to the chosen strategies

Real-World Example

Many companies have gone through the exercise of writing a vision statement because they have heard about companies that have had great success using a vision to reinvent themselves. I see these statements hanging on walls around their various work areas. If you ask someone what these statements are, they don’t know and you can actually see them reading it like it’s their first time seeing it.

Developing a vision statement and using it to drive change can’t be accomplished through superficial efforts; it needs to become the primary focus if it’s going to be successful. I’ve had the experience of being involved in an organization where a vision was properly implemented. The results they achieved were remarkable and could not have been achieved any other way that I know of.

Our leader began by developing the vision story that described what we would look like when we achieved the vision. It described the future of our employees, processes, products, etc. He then held a meeting with a group of influencers and shared it with them. He collected their feedback, which he incorporated into the story. From there, the team penned a vision statement that captured the heart of the story. At that point, the vision was only being sponsored by the seven influencers and the leader, but it was subsequently shared with all teams. It energized the teams and drove them to new levels I had never seen before. Just prior to that, 40% of our employees had been moved to another department. Despite the significant decrease in workforce, the organization’s ability to complete work increased so dramatically that they actually had to look for additional work to keep the teams busy.

This incredible success was a direct result of the people, processes, and culture being transformed by a well-defined, well-implemented vision.