Hate to tell you, but if you are patiently waiting for upper management to proclaim their vision for your work and your team, it most likely is NOT going to happen. Or at least in the degree of granularity you might be hoping for.
We all want to have work with meaning – and as a leader, it is your job to help create that meaning. The good news is that each of us has the ability (and perhaps the obligation) to cast vision – for yourself and your team.
A vision without action is a dream.
Action without vision is a nightmare.
The notion of vision scares us at times. It sounds big. Pretentious. Unknown and unknowable. You might struggle with deciding what is “too big” and what is “too little”. I encourage you to acknowledge the doubts and plow ahead. I’d much rather put my effort toward a “too big” vision than none at all. And if you err by starting small, you will have at least started. Small steps are better than no steps.
It helps me to think of visioning simply as painting a picture (or visual image) of where we want to head. And thinking of it in “dreamlike” terms allows me to be less precise than a goal, and freer to imagine what is currently unimaginable.
Vision starts with a BIG question. These are provocative questions about possibility. About envisioning a future you would like to create. Most importantly, it creates focus, energy and momentum forward.
Step 1: Craft an aspirational statement in advance
Then present it to your team. Begin with “What would it look like if… ” and then add on. For example, What would it look like if…
- Our customers referred us enthusiastically to all their friends?
- You went home every single day energized and proud of the work you do?
- This was the best team you have ever worked on?
- We had a 99% customer satisfaction rating?
- Everyone in the company wanted to know our secret about successful innovation?
Step 2: Give everyone time to reflect on the question
Post the question in advance, giving those who need time to process a bit of alone/quiet time to think. 5 to 10 minutes is fine – too much time and people overthink it. When they overthink it, they tend to dial back.
Step 3: Dialogue and discuss
Allow time for the group to bring together their ideas. Structure the time so that everyone both gets a chance to speak and is listened to. Clarify that we are dreaming, not doing, at this point. It is OK to think about possibility and leave probability for another day. This is exploring, not committing. Although, in my experience, much of what surfaces actually is doable. And trust that the big ideas often can be adapted to fit your time/resource/energy limitations.
Step 4: Capture an image that illustrates your vision
Take the concepts, ideas, and phrases that surface and look for an image (or images) that capture the intent. Here is the key point: this is not about words on a flip cart or white board. It is about a picture, an image, or a metaphor. For example, this image inspires my vision to nurture leadership talent through Evergreen Leadership.
There are a number of ways to do this. You might:
- Take a photo walk – Get out of the building and ask everyone to capture a photo that is a good image for the vision that is emerging. Share – and select one that resonates. Print it and post it. Make copies for everyone.
- Create a collage or vision board – Gather up lots of magazines, art materials, some glue and scissors, and put the words and images that illustrate your vision on a poster board.
- Agree on a generative metaphor. For example, Disney theme parks use the metaphor of a show. Employees are cast members. Customers are guests. There is a back stage. The metaphor can be used in so many ways to capture the experience Disney is wanting to create.
- Have a variety of visual images and select ones that best illustrate your vision. You can collect your own or use the Visual Explorer Images from The Center for Creative Leadership.
Step 5: Begin to step into the vision
Create no more than 3 tangible next steps that can be done to make forward progress. These may be small and even exploratory. Insist that they are doable within 30 days and are done within that time-frame. In 30 days, review the image and the progress made. Pick three more. Repeat again, and again, and again. Pause quarterly and celebrate progress. You’ll be surprised at the momentum you’ll gain and the progress you’ll make.
Want some help doing this? Call me! We facilitate great retreats and visioning sessions.