In researching this article, I found countless resources on “how to write a vision and mission statement,” “how to execute a vision and strategy,” and “why you should have a vision statement.” I found no articles on how to create a vision in the first place. An organizational “vision” too often is a set of action items that preserve the status quo. The vision doesn’t simply show up. You have to take action and be thoughtful to have vision and create a vision.
“What do you want your footprint to be?” That’s the question my friend, Susan, was asked when she started her position leading a key government agency in Canada. They went on, “If you were leaving this job in five years, what footprint would you leave behind?” Good question.
As Susan and I organizational vision, we realized that vision requires you as the manager or leader to connect the dots. That means you need to first see the dots and have time to step back and think about how they connect.
Let’s start with seeing the dots. In this case the “dots” are trends, organizational competencies and opportunities that are uniquely filled by your organization. The organizational vision is the place where the three intersect.
Trends. To consider trends necessitates that you zoom out and see the world through a telescope. Zooming out requires accessing and assimilating information from a wide variety of sources. Read news articles, trade journals, magazines, and books. Listen to podcasts, news programs, industry conference sessions, radio and thoughtful people. From that information, look for common threads, emerging issues, and high-level movements. Here are some questions to prompt your thinking.
- What trends are impacting your industry?
- What trends are shaping other industries that are tangential?
- What’s happening at the fringe of the data that may foreshadow the future?
- What are thoughtful voices talking about?
- What data can you collect?
- What is your initial impression of the data? What are different interpretations of the same data?
- What threads shine through the articles you read in trade journals and the news?
- For what products or services are clients and customers starting to ask?
- What is happening in industries outside of your own that point to related trends?
What is the core competence of your organization? Whether public agency, private company or educational institution, your organization serves a function within the bigger industry. When I ran a government office, our role was to incentivize action in areas that would not be fulfilled by traditional market forces. A company I work with has a core competency in the manufacture of highly reliable electronics. Your vision lives at the intersection of trends, competencies and opportunities. What is it for you?
- What is your organization known for?
- Does your organization have a specific mandate? If so, what is it?
- What special role does your organization play within the industry or within a larger organization?
- What are the key skills that support your organization’s business?
- How will these skills need to evolve in the future to keep up with the trajectory?
- What makes your organization stand out from others?
- How can the core competence be used in new ways?
- How can core competencies be used for new clients or customers?
- What niche does your organization uniquely fill?
Now, connect the dots. Project the trends along with your core competency to search for opportunities that your organization is uniquely positioned to fill. There may be a role to be played, a product or service to be created, or spokesperson who needs to speak out.
- Where are the gaps likely to occur in the future?
- What will be needed in the future that aligns with your core competencies?
- Who will need it?
- Where is leadership needed?
- What should you do that makes the most impact in terms of revenue or influence?
Don’t constrain your thinking too much with the practical realities needed to implement the vision. That comes next as you refine the vision and the steps needed to create an organization that can execute every day drawing a little closer to your vision. With your vision in mind, consider these three factors that are necessary to implement a vision.
- Staff. As you project the trends, consider the evolution of skills needed in the future. What staff skills are necessary to execute the vision? Will existing skills be obsolete or replaced by machines and artificial intelligence? How many staff will be needed? What shifts are necessary to position the staff resources to be ready and capable to drive the vision forward? Do the current staff have the core skills and interests to grow into the future? How can you start now to develop the necessary skills? How can you pique the curiosity of the staff so that they see the needs of the future and respond to them?
- Structure. By structure, I mean the processes, procedures, and resources needed to achieve the vision. Are the existing structures adequate to support the vision? Or, are they antiquated and designed for a time that has come and gone? Do they support the type of customer interaction needed for the future? What performance benchmarks will be important in the future?
- Culture. I no longer remember where I read it, but it stuck: Culture eats strategy for lunch. Basically, the best laid strategy is useless without a companion culture. As you consider your footprint five years into the future, what culture exists in your office? How does it feel to work there? How do the staff describe the work environment? Is it cutthroat, collegial, trusting, suspicious, collaborative, competitive, fast-paced, considered? What behaviors are indicative of the desired culture? What rewards exist that are tied to the behaviors that are tied to the culture?
Leaders are masters at connecting the dots. They see with a microscope and with a telescope. They are keen observers of their environment and are constantly thinking about the big themes and the implications on their organization. And, there is one more element essential to creating vision. That element is quiet time to consider, digest and think. Collecting and connecting the dots can’t happen in the midst of hurried days, jam-packed schedules and frantic work assignments. Thoughtfulness and creativity live in quiet places: a walk, mowing the grass, driving in quiet, sailing, running, cooking, or anything that allows your mind to wander. To create vision, you need reflection time to discover the footprint you wish to leave in your organization.
How do you ensure there is quiet time in your work for visioning?