Vision Series Part 1 of 4: Creating a vision

This month, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about vision, from the beginning stages of creating a vision to its execution. 

For a minute, let’s go back to Business 101. A vision at its most basic level is no more than a way of conveying an organization’s direction that is often, but not necessarily depicted in a statement. But hopefully we all know that a vision represents much more. When carefully crafted, a vision demonstrates the organization’s values, inspires its people, and resonates with its clients. It is not the “how” we do what we do, but the “why” we do what we do and what we are striving to achieve. For all the leaders out there, this is a very important tool (should you use it correctly).  So how do you create a vision that’s more than just words on a paper?

Know your desired impact – What do you want to do? No, what do you really want to do? I’ll give you a hint; it’s not just to build widgets. The work your organization does presumably is done to have an impact on the world. NASA doesn’t just put people on the moon and collect space rocks. They help us to understand the universe and our own planet in ways that advance medicine, science and engineering and improve our lives overall. That’s the impact. Without taking the time to understand your purpose and desired impact on the world, you can’t create a meaningful vision. NASA’s vision directly addresses this:

“To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind.”

Benefit all humankind? Not bad for space rocks.

Tie it back to your values – An engaging vision, one that captures our hearts, does so because it clearly resonates with our core values. When a group of people discover they share the same values, there is a significant increase in energy, commitment and trust,” wrote Jesse Lyn Stoner in her blog post on creating an enduring vision. At IBM, instead of a traditional vision statement, we have our values:

  • “Dedication to every client’s success
  • Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world
  • Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships”

Values are what your employees and clients relate to and believe in themselves. This is what gives the vision reach. Perhaps you don’t understand everything that IBM does, but you do understand trust and dedication, and you know those are important to you as well.

Make it a team effort – To truly ingrain a vision in a culture, you can’t create it alone.  “The only visions that take hold are shared visions—and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs. The best leaders are able to bring their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: They observe the human condition,” wrote James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in their 2009 article in the Harvard Business Magazine. Not only will a diversity of opinions make your vision stronger, it will make it more meaningful to the people you hope will be a part of achieving that vision.

A vision: a direction, a goal, a place you hope to be, is critical to driving a successful organization. It’s not something to rush through; it takes careful thought. Once developed it takes even more care to successfully implement, but more on that to come.


What I’m reading now: Leadership & Adversity

A strong leader must be able to inspire everyone in the enterprise with a clear vision, regardless of market conditions.