We might laugh about projects when we find ourselves building the plane in the air, but it’s no laughing matter when your entire organization is operating this way. To make your mark on this world — to sell your products or services so that they improve people’s lives and deliver betterment — you need to know where you’re going and why. What are you aiming for, if you don’t have a collective “place to go”?
What is a vision?
Your vision is a statement of what your organization uniquely delivers into the world and how that offering improves the world. It gives your team something to organize around and focus on. It anchors your strategic plan, and outlines what your organization would like to achieve.
Here’s an example from Patagonia, a long-standing go-to in business circles (especially B Corps): “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
The what, how and why of that vision are pretty clear. It offers a concise statement of the offering, the company’s commitment to making its finest contribution and the rationale and strategic clarity around serving the bigger picture.
Bite off the big end of ambitious, if you want. Oxfam’s vision is: “A just world without poverty.” Or keep it a little closer. Our Place Society’s vision is, “Nourishment, hope and belonging for all.” Destination Greater Victoria puts it out there this way: “To be internationally recognized as a leader in sustainable tourism development, ensuring Greater Victoria remains one of the top destinations in the world.”
The point is, your vision is your Big Dream, your burning hope for the world. How will this place look after your company has done its work to the best of its ability? In this way, a vision is a different thing than a mission, which states what you do on a day-to-day basis; a vision is what galvanizes each member of your team to find meaning in their contributions, and to aim for that perfect delivery. It’s how they live out the values of your organization.
Find Your Why
To give you a super clear visual to work with, imagine your product/service as that perfect gift that issues, powerful and fully formed, from the skinny end of a funnel. That skinny end of the funnel is your vision. Everything that goes into the funnel — every action, email, order, conversation, decision, shipment and choice — should be aligned with and in support of that vision.
Typically, groups that don’t have a vision don’t have a very strong sense of the importance of their contribution, nor how it fits into the company’s why. In these organizations, you find employees who just put in the time at their desks, complain about being overloaded and don’t see how their work contributes to the bigger picture. They don’t bring new ideas forward. They stand around when a problem hits, looking at the crater and expecting someone else — typically their leadership — to tell them what to do. They don’t know what the organization stands for, really, so they don’t have a clear sense of their agency or ability to take action. They don’t have a clear understanding of what to put into the funnel.
How do you go about creating a vision?
Understand that in order to craft a compelling vision that sets the strategic direction for your organization and guides your team in delivering on your mission to the best of their abilities every day, you need to invite your team into the room. Leaders who refuse to consult with their employees on what makes them get up in the morning, but instead develop their own vision and values, then present it to their team for their buy-in discover that this approach just doesn’t work. For proof, just look at traditional schooling, where the teacher sets the learning goals and everybody “has to” work toward those goals, regardless of their relevance or each individual’s level of interest. How does that make any room for feeling engaged and purposeful?
Vision and values travel together; it makes sense to develop them at the same time. Bring your people together for a day or two, and open up the floor. Find out what people think your vision and values are, or should be. Find out why they get out of bed in the morning — and if it isn’t for their job, start digging. Your people are your power. If they’re not in the boat, you’re not making it to the horizon.
Creating Your Vision
To craft your statement, use the following steps:
> Keep your focus on outcomes rather than inputs. So if your company makes stylish and functional clothing from natural fibres, ask yourself what the outcome is for the customer who purchases the clothing. The outcome is not the clothing itself; it’s the way the customer feels comfortable and elegant as a result of wearing it.
> Figure out the unique twist your company offers that no other competitor offers. Maybe your goats are raised on a specific mountaintop in Siberia, where they lick exposed Jurassic minerals that make their coats uncommonly fluffy. Maybe all your skirts are sewn by an old miner on Gabriola who sings pagan love songs as his needle moves in and out. Whatever makes your product different, this is the place to share it.
> Don’t be afraid to quantify. If you want to put your moisture-wicking merino-goat wool clothing on every Victoria resident, say so.
Alex Van Tol works with organizations to shape and communicate their brand stories. From real estate to tech, she uncovers what makes organizations tick — and what can help them grow.
This article is from the December/January 2020 issue of Douglas.