How To Create A Vision – Part 1

How to Create a Vision, Photo by Ran Berkovich on Unsplash

One of my clients asked me for advice about how to create a vision for their organization. I am surprised it doesn’t come up more often. The topic of visions is a tricky one. Firstly, there is a lack of clarity about what is a vision. Secondly,  it is even less clear how to create one. There is a curious absence of writing on the topic. The best piece I know of is by Jim Collins called ‘Building Your Company’s Vision‘. While it is good, it is also very specific and the concepts don’t resonate with everyone. Rather than share Jim Collins’ work, I decided to go back to basic principles and design a process. Over the next series of leadership articles, I will share my thinking about how to create a vision. In this post, I am going to start at the beginning.

What is a Vision?

A vision is a future state that aligns with the cares of the leader and those around them. In simple terms, it is a description of a future that engages certain people to commit to achieve it. The word commit is important. It must be engaging enough that these people decide they will take action to achieve it. Notice how this is different from most visions which are generated by the leader alone or a small group of the senior most leaders. They excitedly tell everyone their vision and expect, or even dictate, them to commit to achieve it.  Commitment comes from inside us, we can’t be told to commit to anything.

The vision is also an outcome. By this I mean it is something that you know whether you have achieved it or not. It is like a destination. If you are headed to London, you know if you are there or not. Visions are not activities. A vision to get better at something is an activity. How much better is an outcome. You may wonder why this is important. It is more than semantics. If your vision is stated as an activity there is no end to the amount of work you could do. When your outcome is clear, you know when you are done, or not.

Goals or Narratives?

So what is in a vision statement? I am sure you’ve seen those fill in the blanks statements. They usually focus on being the best at something, you fill in the blanks. Jim Collins advocates for a vision that has a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) and a narrative of the future. BHAG’s can be motivating, but I’ve seen plenty of narratives describing a compelling future that don’t include a BHAG. One thing is for sure, the vision should have either a goal or a narrative, often both. I don’t advocate for any particular wording, so long as the outcome or future state is clearly described.

Here are a couple of examples:

JFK shared a goal oriented vision when he said “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” The outcome is very clear.

Kiva, the organization that provides microloans in the developing world has a narrative oriented vision. “We envision a world where all people – even in the most remote areas of the globe – hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others.” It is difficult to pull out the specific goal but  the future it describes is compelling to people with related cares. It doesn’t need to speak to everyone, just those people the leader wishes to engage.

In the next article about how to create a vision, I will compare vision and mission statements. This is another area of confusion and the two terms are not interchangeable.

Comments (1)

good start Andy, look forward to “the rest of the story” 🙂 Randy

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