Are Visions Useful?

Use of Visions

The Consulting Team, LLC

Are Visions Useful? by Dr. Marilyn Manning

To sell your product or service, you need vision. To attract investors, you need vision. To market yourself, you need vision. Is this article, I give you simple steps to articulate your vision.

All successful leaders have a vision for their businesses, projects or teams. In fact, you wouldn’t be a leader if you didn’t have vision, if you couldn’t see exciting possibilities not only in your product or services, but also in your people. And, yet, many leaders when asked to create a vision statement for their team tend to minimize the importance of this process. They often give it lip service, so they can get back to the “real work.”

An in-depth, thoughtful vision process can be a major motivator. An authentic vision comes from your soul, your team’s soul, and touches the heart. A team that is emotionally moved by their vision has the strength to overcome the rough spots and the ups and downs any business faces. When the team has a clear vision for the business, they are creating a picture of the future. They can then work backwards, identifying priorities and what needs to be done to actualize the end result.

Having facilitated many strategic planning and visioning processes for my clients, I have found the following to be a blueprint for a successful visioning process. To know the potential and possibilities of our organization, we have to access where we are, our strengths, our vulnerabilities, our competition and society’s trends.

STEP 1: Conduct a thorough internal and external environmental scan

  • Identify all stakeholders
  • Analyze stakeholder needs and impact
  • Administer a reliable employee satisfaction survey
  • Conduct customer focus groups
  • Identify key questions for environmental scan
  • Seek input from stakeholder representatives
  • Consider using an organizational assessment consultant

Although many teams, projects, and even divisions of companies are not required to develop vision statements, they can be helpful in creating identity and aligning priorities. A vision is a picture of the future we seek to create, described in the present tense, as if it were happening now. It shows where we want to go in the next few years, and what we will be like when we get there. The word comes from the Latin “videre,” to see.

Criteria to consider in writing a vision statement include: strategic focus and market place competitive advantage, adding value, building on current strengths, and embracing the organizational values. Vision should provide the driving force. It should be clear, specific and simple. Everyone in the organization should be able to speak it, feel it, act on it, and integrate it.

Examples of some of my clients’ vision statements developed in our strategic planning:

“To be the leader in providing high quality communication support services by exceeding our customers’ service expectations.” —Lotus division cc:Mail

“California State University, San Bernardino will become one of the leading comprehensive universities in the nation, distinctive for its contributions to the understanding of learning and for innovative partnerships promoting educational, social, economic and cultural advancement in the region.”

“We are an educational institution with the resources to provide our distinct services to the community at large.” —Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

“We envision the Cupertino Educational Endowment Foundation as a leader in entreprenurial philosophy, leveraging its human and fiscal resources in partnership with others to enhance the quality of education in our community.”

“We will strive to insure that the City of Gilroy is a safe, clean, prosperous, well governed city, in which the citizens are involved in the decision making process.”

“The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology is the leader in transpersonally­based, whole person education and state-of-the-art research.”

STEP 2: Seek answers to these questions from stakeholders:

  • What kind of company do we want to become?
  • What reputation would we have?
  • What contribution would we make?
  • Would our services, products expand?
  • Would our customer base change?
  • How would our people work together?
  • What values would we embody?

It is very challenging to craft a good vision statement. It must reflect present actions while representing the desired future. It must factor in existing competencies while identifying what’s missing and how to overcome any limitations.

As you can see from the above questions, company and team values are the foundation for a solid vision statement. Values are the standards and principles upon which behaviors and decisions are made. A true value is not something we are willing to compromise. Values affect our actions and choices. They establish how we expect to be treated and how we treat our customers and employees.

“If employees know what their organization stands for, what standards they are to uphold, then they are much more likely to make decisions that support those standards. They are also more likely to feel as if they are an important part of the organization. They are motivated because life in the organization has meaning for them.” —Deal & Kennedy –Corporate Cultures, 1982

I highly recommend that a thoughtful value process be conducted before writing a vision statement. Every employee in your company already has a set of values that they live by. Values are very intrinsic and personal. If you can hold some meaningful dialog about values, you begin to see where employee priorities lie. By aligning employee and company values, you build an environment that is congruent. You build loyalty. We all want to work in places that reflect our personal values. For example, a perfectionist engineer who values high quality and thoroughness will soon feel discouraged, demotivated, and become unproductive working for someone who values quantity above all else.

Peters and Waterman (1982) say “Figure out your value system. Decide what your company stands for. Every excellent company we studied takes the process of value shaping seriously.”

STEP 3: Hold Company Wide Values Discussions

  • Design an appropriate list of values (at least 30)
  • Distribute to all personnel to prioritize
  • Identify top priority values
  • Train leaders in facilitation skills or use an outside facilitator
  • Hold team discussions to define importance of top values
  • Executives & employees discuss behavioral expectations
  • Gain consensus of company code of behavior

Each leader and each team needs to define their own expectations. How will they put their values into play? What procedures can they agree to? How will they distribute responsibilities? How will meetings be conducted? What will be the lines of communication? How do problems get resolved?

The results of a recent survey of American managers shows that clearly articulated organizational values do make a significant difference in the lives of employees, as well as in performance. Values are the bedrock of all company cultures. Working globally, values become even more important to understand and respect. Paying attention to values, discussing them, honoring them can build teams and prevent unnecessary conflict.

Successful teams create and adopt their own codes of behavior or team expectations. In the next issue, I’ll outline how teams can best accomplish this.

Remember, to create a vision for your business or team, try the four primary steps outlined in this article. Conduct your internal and external environmental scan, gain consensus on the organizational values through a meaningful process, assess your stakeholders, and utilize a thorough process to respond to the key visioning questions.