One of the most frustrating things for leaders is developing vision. A few leaders have a knack for this, but most struggle. When I talk with leaders, the “vision thing” is a mysterious subject and they just avoid the issue. However, one of the primary roles of leading is to move the organization forward, and that absolutely requires developing organizational vision. So here are seven principles for developing vision.
Vision Is A Preferred Picture Of The Future
The best answer to the question, “What is vision?” is that it is a preferred picture of the future. Much like a photograph, a vision statement has specific features and elements that describe what the future will look like. Also like a photograph, there are many things in the picture, but there are many things that are not in the picture.
Vision Is The Future Expression Of Values
I make a big thing of values when I work with leaders. I talk a lot about individual values and about organizational values. So I sometimes get the insightful question, “What is the role of values in a vision?” Values, or what’s important around here, if effectively integrated into the culture and lived out in the lives of organizational members should be clearly present and visible in the preferred picture of the future. Values are the thread of continuity that permeates all areas of an organization and across time, into the future.
Vision Is An Invitation That Not All Will Accept
When casting vision, some leaders are concerned that not everyone will buy into the vision and may even leave the organization. That’s OK. In fact, I argue that’s good. If you have done an effective job of painting a very clear picture of your organization’s preferred future, and someone says, “OK, but I don’t see myself in that picture,” then why would you want them to hang on any longer. Love them and help them find out where the do belong.
Vision Is A Picture That Must Be In Focus
Usually, when looking at a photograph, what we see is in focus. We can clearly see the features of the subject and describe what is there. We tend to take for granted the value of focus. Imagine, though, taking a picture that is out of focus and asking someone, “What do you see?” Their ability to understand what they are looking at is limited and perhaps even wrong. Vision must be in focus so that everyone has a clear understanding of where the organization is headed.
Vision Is Developed Through Guided Discovery
A lot is written about how to cast vision—how to communicate and share it with all stakeholder groups. Less is written about how to develop vision. Honestly, this is a difficult subject and good strategies vary across organizations. However, one sure principle is that leaders need to guide stakeholders through the process of developing vision. Leaders need to first define the “frame” of the preferred picture of the future (i.e. what is and what is not part of this organization’s future). Leaders also need to identify elements of the picture that are high priority. After that, it is time to ask stakeholders what they envision for the details of that future picture. Together, leaders and stakeholders will discover the details of the picture.
Vision Thrives Through Multiple Stakeholder Groups
As already suggested in the previous principle, it is important that leaders work with as many stakeholder groups as possible when developing the preferred picture of the future. All stakeholder groups have an interest in the future of the organization. The more they are able to participate in designing the future, the more buy-in they will have for the future. By the way, many leaders tend to forget “hidden” stakeholders such as suppliers, families of employees, corporate neighbors (others in your office park), etc. You will have to decide which of these groups to include in your vision development process.
Vision Becomes Stronger Through Cross-pollination
Often, senior leaders will divide the hands-on work of developing vision (defining the frame, strategizing meetings with stakeholders, etc.) among leadership sub-groups. When this is done, and assuming there are three or more groups, it is important to make sure that everyone participating in these groups is assigned to two different teams. Why? This creates a cross-pollination of ideas and communication across teams to minimize the potential for one group to go in a bad direction. It also increases the consistency and strength of idea development. This principle also applies to stakeholder groups but in a more general way. When meeting with stakeholders, consider mixing some groups together and offer two or more times to meet.
These seven principles will help your vision development process be more engaging and effective. They will help you create a preferred picture of the future that is specific, compelling, and energizing.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.