Every organization needs an inspiring Vision to align its efforts and communicate to stakeholders. But a Vision only achieves its purpose when it is clearly understood, and when the members of the organization all “buy in”, that is, they believe it is worth doing and do-able. See Vision Development: The Leader’s Role. “Imagining Excellence” is a proven technique leaders can use to make this happen.
Step One: Orchestrating
The leader must start by accepting the role of orchestrating rather than creating the Vision. He or she gathers and participates in a team of key lieutenants and key contributors or subject matter experts, and together they build a Vision of what the company will be in three years.
The leader leads, but also listens, and his/her synthesis brings it all together in the end. The people on the team will later be effective communicators because they understand and believe in the Vision they helped to build.
These key people are also the ones who can clarify the “short-form” Vision by describing the various aspects of the company in the future state. See below for more on this.
The leader’s first step is to choose the participants and set a date for a two-day off-site meeting.
Step Two: Defining Reality – Why Change?
Second, prior to the meeting, he or she decides what will be needed to “define reality,” and appoints people to develop those objective views.
“Define Reality” means presenting an external (that is, real) view of the business using the perspectives of people other than management: customers, suppliers, competitors, employees, consultants, investors, or financial analysts. Examples of reality might include new customer research, technology trend analysis, competitive analysis, and financial results/trends.
At the meeting, key lieutenants present these external views first. After this strong dose of reality medicine, the team develops a newly-realistic SWOT and competitive analysis matrix (see Competitive Analysis Matrix).
Step Three: Short Form Vision
As they are looking at easel sheets showing their place in the industry, the leader prompts a discussion of “where do we want to be in three years.” The result is a draft Vision.
Step Four: Long Form Vision
This is the crucial step. Rather than endlessly wordsmithing the draft Vision statement, the team next makes a statement about each of the company’s key aspects as they would like them to be in three years. For example, “operations will be able to do x in y time with z% rework.”
Some key aspects would be product lines, target market segments, competitive position and competitive edge, key competencies, critical processes, infrastructure, supply chain and sales channels. See the next article for more on these.
To get their attention and make it real, add some general metrics for finance, operations, and sales – not as targets, but to help develop a common understanding of the size or extent of the company being envisioned.
Now the meeting gets real. The reality-based “situation analysis” and the draft Vision statement might have seemed a bit abstract to a team composed of problem-solvers. In contrast, imagining excellence in key functions is more tangible. It’s something they know well, and something they have wished for, making it both personal and inspiring.
Step Five: From Vision to Gap Analysis – Old Way and New Way
At the end of the first day, the leader summarizes by extracting “Key Success Factors” from these statements about the key aspects of the envisioned company. Then he or she appoints ad hoc teams to list the projects that would be needed to move these key aspects from where they are today to the vision of excellence just developed. The ad hoc teams do their work overnight after the team dinner, or early the next morning, and report back as the second day’s meeting begins.
Meanwhile, the leader’s overnight assignment is to (1) ponder what a finalized Vision statement might look like, after hearing how the company’s key aspects should change, and (2) anticipate the key initiatives and resources needed to move the company from where it is today to achieve the Vision.
Step Six: From Gap Analysis to “Major Projects for Change”
The second day’s meeting begins with optimistic problem-solvers identifying the gaps between the company today and the company they envision, and proposing major projects or initiatives to achieve the Vision.
Improving their functions is what they do best, and what they enjoy most. The “can-do” spirit spreads, and inspiration spreads as well. At the same time, the whole team begins to realize what the Vision means for the company and for them personally.
After the gap/project reports, the leader and team revisit the short form draft Vision statement, amending it now that they all know what will be needed to achieve it.
Step Seven: Personal Responsibility
Transitioning to Strategy, the team moves on to prioritize major projects and appoints a champion for each. A good technique for prioritizing is the Nine-Cell Matrix, which will be explained in a future article. Finally, they select Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will measure success in terms of progress toward the Vision.
At the end of the meeting, what has been accomplished?
- Common understanding of the company’s current and likely future position in the industry
- Vision statement in short form
- Vision statement clarified by a vision for each of the company’s key aspects (long form Vision statement)
- Alignment and buy-in among key lieutenant and key contributors
- Prioritization and ownership of major initiatives needed to achieve the Vision
- Measures of success
Now the leader can begin the communications and implementation efforts, supported by an aligned team of key people.
Does this seem like a good return on the two-day investment? For a story of how this worked in practice, see An Operational Turnaround’s First 100 Days.
Tom Gray helps owners save and grow their companies. He is a management consultant focused on small business and telecom, a Certified Turnaround Professional (CTP), a Certified Business Development Advisor, and a Certified SCORE Mentor. He can be reached at 630-512-0406 or email@example.com. See www.tom-gray.com
Small Business Techniques, Vision Development
Tags: Imagining Excellence: A Technique for Vision Development