Flip through a book on leadership, read an interview with an entrepreneur, or listen to a podcast for business owners: you’ll hear the word “vision.” You’ll hear how powerful and game-changing a good one can be.
But you won’t often hear what “vision” actually means or how to craft an effective vision for your organization. Given all that, it’s no wonder that creating a company vision can seem confusing and out of reach.
Over the next few weeks, we are peeling back the curtain on all things vision with perspectives from Emplify executives and employees. As a vision expert, I recently guided Emplify through the process of clarifying, refining, and aligning their vision. And we want to share that journey with you.
So let’s break down what vision means, what makes a great vision, and how to activate it within your organization. We’ll start with some common myths that might be keeping your organization from a clear vision.
Myth: Purpose, vision, and strategy are interchangeable
There are fundamental differences between these terms, and the reality is that each has more impact when they work together.
Ancient sailors used the North Star to navigate the globe. They traveled miles, guided by its glow, but no matter how far they went, they never reached the star.
Your organization’s purpose is like that North Star: you’ll never get there, and that’s OK. Purpose is aspirational.
But if your purpose is just floating out there on its own, it may be inspiring, but it can also be exhausting. Just like those sailors, no matter how much progress you and your team make, there will always be more to do in pursuit of your purpose.
That’s where vision comes in. We’re guided by our North Star, but we still need a tangible destination we can actually reach. We need a way to feel successful along our journey.
A vision is your organization’s definition of success at a specific point in the future. Rather than a vague platitude, it must be a fully fleshed-out picture of where you and your team will be at a certain date down the line.
You can think of your purpose as the why behind your journey. That makes your vision the “where, when and what” of your journey:
- Where is your next stop?
- When are you going to get there?
- What is it going to look like when you arrive?
But all of this leaves out an important question: How are you going to get there? And how will you course correct if something stands in your way? The answer is your strategy.
The key with these three ideas—purpose, vision, and strategy—is that they build on one another. That way, you can ground yourself and your team in why your journey is worth taking and what the next destination will be, then work backwards and chart the course.
Myth: Visioning is all about the future
Whenever I ask someone what comes to mind when I say the word “vision”, the first answer is almost always “future.”
But before we begin to think about our future, we have to understand where we are now and how we got here. With that context, we can take stock—and gain a clearer picture—of our current reality. Only then are we really prepared to think about where we’re headed next.
Visioning exercises that help peel back the layers will provide critical context. They’ll help you and your team connect the dots between organizational patterns and their impact—positive and negative.
These exercises will bring both alignment and misalignment to the surface. They’ll catalyze conversations your team didn’t even realize they needed to have. A well-executed visioning process allows everyone involved to have fingerprints on the future you’re creating—and participate in the change needed to get there.
Myth: Visioning feels good but is just a “touchy-feely” waste time
If your vision is just a flash-in-the-pan source of motivation, then I agree. It is a waste of time. But visioning isn’t about glitter and unicorns. It’s about asking and answering fundamental questions that will drive your organization forward.
I always tell leaders that I’ll help them write a vision, but I won’t help them write a fantasy. That’s because a vision should be inspiring, but also realistic. It needs to be a living, breathing part of your organization, not just a document that gathers dust on your desk.
An effective vision provides your organization with a compass. That allows people at every level of your organization to gauge if their actions are moving the company closer to, or farther away from your shared vision: your definition of success at that specific point in the future. It provides a filter between opportunities and distractions disguised as opportunities.
Ultimately, your vision equips you and your team to arrive on time at your chosen destination and make better decisions—faster—along the way.
The four characteristics of an effective vision
Now that we’ve busted some myths about vision, let’s talk about what makes a vision effective:
1. It’s got to get you out of bed in the morning
Your vision needs to exhilarate you and your team, not just today, but over the long haul. It has to have enough specificity that your people can truly envision that future state. It also has to have enough intentional vagueness to leave room for the exciting growth, evolution, and change your organization will experience.
2. You’ve got to believe you can get there, (even if you don’t know how yet)
Your vision needs to stretch and challenge your organization. At the same time, it needs to be attainable. if your vision feels like a pie-in-the-sky dream, your team will dismiss it as a fantasy. But if they know they can make it happen, they’ll get behind the work it will take to turn the vision into reality. Adding structure and specificity to your vision will help tie it directly to annual and quarterly benchmarks so you can track and share progress along the way.
3. It’s got it be on paper
Writing your vision down will challenge you and your team to explore, distill, and articulate what success will look for your organization at a specific point in the future. Documenting your vision introduces accountability and ensures that your vision is not a moving target. Without a written vision, it’s easy for a verbal message to morph and become diluted through an organizational game of telephone.
4. You’ve got it get it out there
Sharing your vision, both internally and externally, fosters alignment and unlocks innovation. Once everyone understands the mountain you’re climbing, what the peak looks like, and when you’re going to summit, they can get creative about how to get there and stay banded together along the way.
Now that you have a better understanding of the components of a company vision and how to leverage it, read about Adam Weber’s experience of crafting a five year vision alongside his co-founder and Executive Team.
About the author
Lois Weinblatt is a Vision Coach, facilitator, speaker and founder of True North Visionaries. She helps leaders struggling with clarity stop wasting time and start making better decisions, faster. For over 6 years she has guided Visionary leaders and organizations in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia through her proven process to clarify their next destination, create the strategy to get there and recalibrate along the way.