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July 19th, 2018
Creating a vision is one of the most challenging tasks undertaken by a team or organisation. “Vision” in this context refers not to a few simple phrases, but rather the complete articulation of the future state, i.e. company values, processes, structure, technology, job roles, and environment.
The question is… What steps can I take to create an effective and actionable vision for my Organisation or team?
This article presents five basic steps you can take to greatly increase the chances of creating an effective vision for your organisation or team.
Step 1 – Cast your team carefully, you cannot do it alone
Effective visions are created when the right combination of individuals come together to form an optimistic and energised team. The team should include:
- Individuals who understand the business today
- Outsiders, individuals who are objective toward the business and the outcome (they may have no understanding of the current processes, systems, etc.)
- A few technical gurus around your products or services
- some people who work closely with your customers
- Executives and front-line employees
- Your customers and suppliers
What’s most important though, is that the team can work well together. You should look for team members with the following characteristics:
- Open minded and optimistic
- Good team players
Step 2 – Clearly define your project scope and objectives, don’t solve a problem that is not yours to solve
Effective visions happen when objectives are clear and the scope for the project is well defined and understood. Teams will often produce a great vision for something more than they were originally asked to take on, and as a result can’t fulfil it!
By defining your objectives and scope clearly, your team will be directed and focused on a vision that can be implemented.
Define your scope and boundaries clearly. And, define those boundaries from a “process” perspective clearly stating where the process begins, and where it ends. Describe what is included, and what is not included in the project, including the organisations and systems involved, and list those not involved. Draw the scope of your project and be sensitive to “scope creep”; there’s a tendency for teams to take on more and more as the project proceeds.
Your project objectives should also be clearly defined. And should address operational objectives, customer objectives, and any objectives related to reduced cycle time, reduced defects or improved quality. Describe how you will “measure success” for each objective. Ensure that the team is well grounded in the business issues that are driving the project. State how you will know when you are done.
Step 3 – Build knowledge in your team, what you know right now is usually not enough
Visions are more effective when you take the time to develop your team’s knowledge of your business, your customers, your associates and the best practices of competitors and noncompetitors.
Learning is a step often overlooked by new teams, especially when they are faced with short schedules and are told to produce results fast. In urgent situations, teams often want to take what they already know and go with it.
The desire to brainstorm a solution, design it and implement it will be strong with many teams. But remember breakthrough visions will not result from rushing headlong into ad hoc brainstorming sessions. Breakthrough visions come from reaching beyond what we “know” today – and even beyond what we “know we don’t know.”
Breakthrough thinking comes from discovering the world beyond our current beliefs and paradigms – beyond what we know today. We must break down our current reality and eliminate our current assumptions. There is more to be learned in the space of what we “don’t know, we don’t know” than in the totality of what we “know.” In this greater space breakthroughs are found.
To reach into this greater space, learning must come before thinking. You must seek out a true understanding of customers, associates, competitors and technology. It is essential that you listen to the voice of your customers. Talk to them and understand their future direction. Do the same with your associates. What do they hear from customers? What are their wants and needs? What are barriers that prevent them from excellence every day?
The practices and direction of your competitors and non-competitors must be well researched and understood, usually through processes like benchmarking. You must immerse yourself in future technologies, the trends and possibilities – even the unlikely possibilities. Technologies can make possible what before was not possible. What you must create is a foundation for creative thinking, and this foundation cannot be created in one day of brainstorming. The foundation is developed through learning together as a team.
Step 4 – Stand in the future and get unstuck from today
Effective visions are created when a team can stand in the future and look back, rather than stand in the present and look forward. Our condition is naturally living forward from today. When creating visions, this condition is a barrier to breakthrough thinking even in the presence of profound knowledge. Often, we are so rooted in our current processes, systems and culture – the way we live now – that we find it difficult to create a “new” vision for our organisation. We need to project ourselves into the future. This magical feat is accomplished through imagination. Imagine the future as it could be – as you want it to be, and then describe what you see. When this exercise is performed with a team, in this future they will see world -class processes, culture, technology, people and performance. In other words, look “back” from your success and see what obstacles you had to overcome to get there. Talk as if you were in the future and were reflecting on what you did to achieve success.
The secret of this approach is that, when looking from the start, you see all the alternatives, with no clear guidance as to how to make choices; but when looking back from the future, you can devise a path back to the present — perhaps not the only path, but a workable one with obvious obstacles that WERE overcome.
Step 5 – Create a principle-centred vision
Effective visions are created when they are rooted in guiding principles. Guiding principles are the tenets or beliefs that the team has uncovered about the needs in their business that drive them towards their vision. Teams often represent their vision as a new process or system, or perhaps a new organisational design. Much to their dismay, these solutions, processes and systems are changed multiple times during implementation, and some teams see their original vision altered, sometimes even damaged beyond repair. They are even more disappointed when they see the original intent of those designs lost in the shuffle of implementation. “Intent” lies beyond the diagrams, processes and system architectures. Intent represents the basic values and beliefs the team applied, perhaps unconsciously, to create the vision – the guiding principles by which they made decisions and trade-offs. A common pitfall is not articulating these guiding principles that represent their intent. Many teams not only do not articulate these principles to those outside their team, they fail to make them clearly known and agreed within their team. As a result, the process designs, organisational designs, and other elements that make up the future-state lack a solid foundation and are not lasting. Before you craft the details around new processes, systems and organisations, agree on those guiding principles that are fundamental and enduring around your vision. Use these guiding principles as a compass for your designs. Guide your team and the implementation with a principle-centred vision that can survive the turbulence of implementation, and that always will serve as common ground for future discussions and decision making.
Effective and actionable visions are created when:
- The right combination of individuals come together to form an optimistic and energised team
- Clear objectives exist and the scope for the project is well defined and understood
- The team develops profound knowledge about the business, customers, associates and best practices of competitors and non-competitors
- The team can stand in the future and look back, rather than stand in the present and look forward
- The vision is rooted in a set of guiding principles
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Mike Notman is a highly experienced Change and Organisational Development specialist and has delivered significant change programmes in a wide range of larger private companies and public bodies since moving into consultancy in 1991. Having established a commercial consultancy for Leeds Metropolitan University in 1993 he went on to establish and lead two national consulting practices on behalf of major accounting firms. During the last 25 years Mike has focused on developing organisational structures, leaders, senior teams and corporate cultures to improve efficiency and effectiveness in business and operational performance.
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