About Visioning

This is a second posting in the series about Mission, Visioning and Values. See our first posting on “Mission” here.

Vision. Without it, we bump into things; we stumble and fall and ultimately can’t be certain if where we end up is where we want to be.

It’s a powerful and sometimes provocative word. It has numerous meanings. Being able to see what is before you AND being able to conjure up an image of the future are among the definitions or connotations of “vision.”

Picturing your future reality
From an organizational perspective, a vision statement is about picturing a future reality based on your mission statement. In other words, it is about what your purpose (i.e. mission) has accomplished five years or so down the road. In a sense, mission frames your work now to achieve your desired future.

Some are wary of visioning
Some people are wary of vision statements because they fear either that they will be little more than fantasy that no one really pays attention to or create unrealistic objectives that prime the organization for failure. It is easier and safer just to say what your purpose is than it is to announce what you will accomplish five years hence. 

Vision – a strong reference for goal setting
I am not suggesting drafting a mission statement is facile. My point is vision development is more difficult and risky. Imagine, for example, that a father’s personal mission is to be a loving and caring force in the lives of his wife and children. From that simple, powerful statement, he could develop some goals to work on, just like organizations do, but without a vision of what a loving and caring father/husband looks like down the road, what is the reference point of the goals?

Goals that evolve from purpose may be enough to move forward. Not every organization HAS to have a vision. But goals that reference mission as their touchstone of purpose and values AND vision as the intended future of mission realized – those goals have more strategic “oomph” to them, don’t they?

When to develop a vision statement
There is a diversity of opinion about when a vision should be articulated. Some say at the front end of a strategic planning process in order to set the stage for the development of the plan; others say it should happen at the end in order to aptly capture the intent of the strategies and goals that have been discussed and prioritized. Simple truth is it should happen when it makes sense for your organization. It can work both ways, though I would offer that the process of developing a vision statement might very well work best if it is being developed throughout the planning process.

Suggested Guidelines
Whenever you create it, here are some guidelines to consider.

1. Vision should not be encumbered by reality but neither should it ignore your environment, trends, and facts. Stretch your minds, get out of the box, but do so in a manner that ensures that your imagination at some point has to return to earth and have a dialog with your practical, logical side.

2. Vision is more than a statement. For it to be effective and inspiring it has to integrate your strategies, objectives, and annual plans into a coherent and accessible image or picture of your organization in the future.

3. A good vision statement finds the balance among what the organization can be, should be, and could be. The “can be” is to remind you that your picture of the future must be contextual to your reality of the present.

For example, at my age, my vision of being physically fit five years from now would look quite different from such a vision framed 20 year ago. The “should be” refers to doing the right things and speaks of values or philosophy, but also it speaks of doing what I call the “fitting” thing for your stakeholders. Again, using my personal analogy, my five year goal of physical fitness may very well go beyond what “can be” if I consider what my physical fitness will look like in the future to ensure I am meeting the needs and hopes of my wife and children.

The “could be” is what stretches our thinking beyond the “can be” and even “should be” to push us to truly understand the changes we need to make in order to reach our desired future. This is where break through goals might be articulated. For example while my vision of physical fitness is contextual to my current age, I could very well identify one of my “could be’s” to be to run a marathon within 5 years. Imagine how that element of my vision statement would serve as a change agent in my plans and activities to achieve my vision.

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