In essence, our vision describes our desired future. A vision can be understood as “the force which moulds meaning for the people of an organization” (Manasse 1986) and “a picture of the future with some implicit or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future.” (Kotter 2012).
In some change initiatives it is possible that a future state can be identified fairly early on. This is the case if we are dealing with an incremental change. With a transformational change, the vision will be less clear and may evolve somewhat over the life of the change. That is okay. These are situations that lend themselves well to a co-creation process.
In either circumstance, to create a vision that is achievable it’s important we collaborate with the leadership team and key partners in its development. This serves two purposes. First, we get a more holistic, realistic picture of expectations among diverse players who will be implementing the vision. Second, if we include key players in the development of the vision, they are much more likely to support and advocate for the change. A key point to remember: People support what they help develop.
If the change is successful, what will it look like?
Ensuring senior leadership is on board
It is vital that leaders commit to (and believe in) a robust process to develop a vision that includes as many key stakeholders as appropriate. Leaders are, in fact, the main advocate for the vision.
Working under the premise that people support what they help develop, we (the change team, sponsor, leadership team) gain by involving as many senior leaders as possible from within the organization in depicting the future. Of course, this requires that we do our own homework as we begin this discussion early in the process.
Select stakeholders should likely be brought into this key discussion. We may need to also become very inclusive of many stakeholders when the future is unclear so that we shape this vision together. This very exercise then becomes part of the change process itself. In the latter circumstances, using approaches and methodologies such as Appreciative Inquiry can really propel the change effort. This, in and of itself, requires and demonstrates strong leadership.
Defining our vision together
We are likely going to get a better outcome by bringing the leadership team and key stakeholders together to define our vision. This can be done in whatever way fits with our work culture, but it often works best through a series of group discussions.
We can start our discussions with questions such as:
- How do we define our role? How does it contribute positively to the organization? (i.e., who are we? What do we do?)
- What are the structures (e.g., mindsets, processes) that support this raison d’être?
- How can we build on or create these structures? (i.e., how we will do it)
- What are the values that will drive these two? (i.e., why we will do it)
- What would success look like?
These will help us better understand some of the fundamentals of who we are, how we go about our work, and why we do it.
We can then continue this discussion following an Appreciative Inquiry approach, which will allow us to dive deeper into the perspectives of participants and begin better defining the objectives for the change.
Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what works, as opposed to more traditional approaches that focus on what does not. The philosophy of the approach (and backed up by 20 years of experience and studies) is that by looking at the existing strengths of our organization, and focusing on the positive attributes, we increase commitment and, therefore, can better implement change.
We can continue our discussions in an Appreciative manner with questions such as:
- Imagining ourself in a new, idealized future (at work)
- What are we feeling?
- What is different?
- Walking around in the new idealized future
- What do we see?
- Thinking about the people there
- What are people’s behaviours?
- What are people doing differently?
- Thinking about our broader context
- What is the world calling for our organization to be?
- What are some exciting possibilities for our organization?
- How can the organization be inspired to grow?
We can add or remove questions based on our context. The goal of the exercise is to push the boundaries of the possible, in whatever way works best according to our unique circumstances. It is through these discussions that we shape and define our future.
Drafting our vision statement
One way we can articulate our vision is to co-develop vision statements for the main themes that surfaced in earlier discussions. Essentially, we want to determine how we live our vision. This can help us make the vision real for people. For this, we can create a vision statement (called provocative propositions in Appreciative Inquiry parlance).
An Appreciative Inquiry vision statement will challenge the status quo while keeping a link to the best of what already exists. While developing this statement we can keep in mind some principles (as adapted from Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination):
- Is it provocative? Does it stretch, challenge, or interrupt the status quo?
- Is it grounded? Are there examples that illustrate the ideal as a real possibility?
- Is it desired? If it could be fully actualized, would it be beneficial to the organization?
- Is it stated in affirmative terms?
- Does it provide guidance for the organization’s future as a whole?
- Does it expand the zone of the possible?
*Note: While going through this exercise it can be helpful to remember that we are trying to develop our vision statement(s) on the ideal organization (within reason). We are trying to stretch a bit. What would our organization look like in it’s ideal state?
Our vision statement
From the results of our discussions we should be able to articulate a vision statement that encapsulates where the leadership team and key stakeholders would like the organization to go. The vision statement should be written in the active voice.
For example, if we feel that a positive client/employee experience is vital to our vision, we could say:
We provide people with peace of mind. We ensure that when people are working (whether that is at home or at the office) they are both well-equipped and satisfied with their experience. We approach people’s equipment needs holistically, acknowledging that we are a key enabler of the federal government workforce.
To operationalize our vision statement, we can set out a series of mission statements. Often, this focuses on the types of mindsets and behaviours that align best with the new future.
Now that we have understood our drivers of change and created our vision (and engaged key partners in the process of defining it), we can identify our conditions for success. The conditions for success help us to understand if we are headed in the right direction, and will tell us our change is successful.