A Vision that Sticks

Posted: October 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

Visions, Mission Statements, Slogans… Everyone has one. You hear them in TV commercials, see them posted in advertisement materials, displayed on web pages, and on signs hanging in almost every company around the world. They attempt to communicate the essence of what drives an organization or team. They are the picture of where the company or organization wants to go or become. See if you recognize any of the following examples:

Human Rights nCampaign: Equality for everyone.

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: A World Free of MS.

Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Make-A-Wish: Our vision is that people everywhere will share the power of a wish.

San Diego Zoo: To become a world leader at connecting people to wildlife and conservation.

Ducks Unlimited is wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.

In Touch Ministries: proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in every country of the world.

NPR, with its network of independent member stations, is America’s pre-eminent news institution.

World Vision: For every child, life in all its fullness; Our prayer for every heart, the will to make it so.

Goodwill: Every person has the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential and participate in and contribute to all aspects of life.

Smithsonian: Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.

Save the Children: Our vision is a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation.

Boy Scouts of America: To prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law.

Special Olympics: To transform communities by inspiring people throughout the world to open their minds, accept and include people with intellectual disabilities and thereby anyone who is perceived as different.

Vision is defined as “the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be,” or “a vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation.” Grand visions have been put forth throughout the history of man. In the book of Genesis the Bible tells the story of the Tower of Babel. In that account, the people of Babel had a vision to build a tower to the heavens in order to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11). That did work out so well… There was Tucker, who had probably the most technologically advanced car to come to market at the time. His dream lives now only in the few cars that he managed to build. Ford and Coca-Cola are two of the most recognized brands in the world. Henry Ford had the vision to build a car that every person could afford to own and operate. The founders of Coca-Cola had the vision to put a sparkling beverage in the hands of every person around the world. Coca-Cola has the world’s largest beverage distribution system serving consumers in more than 200 countries at a rate of 1.9 billion servings a day…pretty impressive results. The United States of America was the culmination of the vision of the Founding Fathers.

So what makes some visions impactful, and others to end up in the wishing well? There are certainly a lot of factors that can come into play in bringing a vision to reality. In the case of the some of the examples listed above, the outside influences may have been just too great to overcome. Some would argue that it could have also been that human arrogance was the root of the issue, and the vision was not only destined for failure, but was in fact completely wrong in the first place. But if you have a look at the examples of success, I believe you will come away with some lessons on how to make a vision go from the white board of the mind to the reality of life; from visions and dreams to something that can be shared with the world!

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, the Organizational Health Model is presented. While Mr. Lencioni does not specifically use the word “vision” in his model, he does discuss the topic of “clarity” in an organization. This creation of clarity is step two on the path to organizational health, which Mr. Lencioni says is a key factor going forward for all organizational success. I have to agree with him. With the explosive growth of information and data, and the ease of access via the internet, any company and organization can obtain information regarding the best strategy and technology. In most cases, financing is readily available for a good idea. Walk into any bookstore or search the web and you can find tons of information on effective marketing. Just watch TV and you will see how various organizations mimic each other when it comes to catchy marketing. While these aspects are still very important, I have to agree that these are not the keys to separating one brand or idea from another. If you are no good at these things, then certainly a great vision will not make any difference. But even if you have the right data, a good strategy model, the best technology, and a good marketing plan, but your organization lacks vision, you will be limited in your success and miss being all you can be (did you catch that slogan from the US Army).

So what are the keys to going from vision to reality? Assuming you have a great vision already in view…

Put together an effective team.

John Maxwell said that one is too small a number to achieve greatness. Any great achievement that has been done throughout human history has been the result of a team effort. I am a huge Peyton Manning fan. He is perhaps the greatest quarterback to play the game. He is a 5-time NFL Player of the Year and has set numerous other records. But so far he has only one Super Bowl ring. So why has he not won more rings? Because he can’t do it alone! It takes an effective team to win the big one.

Growing the idea and setting the expectations.

A vision stated does not bring it to reality. A vision has to be nurtured and developed. One of the first statements that has to be asked is “Why are we here?” To really flesh out that answer, several questions should be asked:

  • Why does our organization or team exist?
  • How will we treat each other?
  • What will we measure our success?
  • What are the most important short-term needs of our organization?
  • What will we do right now?

Patrick Lencioni lists very similar questions in Discipline 2: Create Clarity. This step is needed to make sure the organization is aligned and that any potential for confusion is minimized. I have personally seen how skipping this step or not having complete buy-in can result in delays getting an activity started, and limit even the best team’s success.

Communicate, communicate, communicate…and communicate some more!

Another big mistake that many organizations make is a lack of communicating the vision. It is not enough to hang a banner or send out a memo. The vision needs to be talked about and integrated into everything the organization does. Patrick Lencioni says that to be truly effective, the message should be simple and communicated in different mediums. The vision needs to be communicated throughout the organization by every level of leadership. And it needs to be repeated.

Living the Vision…

The final step to make the vision stick is to integrate the vision into the day-to-day activities of your organization. Everything that your organization does, from hiring to promotions, to measuring performance, to dismissing or changing leadership, should support the vision statement. How can an organization emphasize safety as part of the vision statement, but cut short safety training or operating equipment without proper safety guards in place, all to save money. What does that communicate to the organization? Or how can an organization emphasize production quotas at the cost of quality processes if quality is a key part of the organizations vision. If leadership has said that teamwork is part of the organizations DNA, but behind the scenes there are deliberate activities taking place that undermine teamwork, do you think that part of the vision will survive? Not likely…

Having a vision that goes from idea to reality is hard work and takes great leadership. No one said that leadership was easy, but it is worth the investment. Leadership is not complicated, but it is hard. It takes dedication, determination, and the ability to rise above the squabbling and bickering that can take place among the leadership of many organizations. In my own experience, I have seen many occasions when leaders concern for their area of responsibility has overshadowed their leadership ability and hurt the organization.



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