We have put together lessons and principles that have proved useful in the vision-related work under the initiative The Next Era.
Take a moment to think about the need for a vision
The demand for visions, or desirable future scenarios, depends largely on the extent to which change is required of a community or organisation in the future. In the event that you face a roller-coaster scenario, having a vision might be a good idea. A vision provides the members of a community with a long-term anchor point. Visions also help highlight paths to a preferred future.
Build it as a team!
For a vision to genuinely guide action instead of being left to gather dust, you need to engage many people in building the vision. A vision cannot be the brainchild of just a few individuals. For this reason, you should invite not only your organisation’s own experts to participate in the vision-building effort but, ideally, also other stakeholders. Could you involve your partners in building your vision?
You can further analyse the key stakeholders for your vision, for example with the help of this tool.
Make the most of the wisdom of the crowd!
When you start building your vision, interview your colleagues:
- What is particularly important to them in the organisation’s big picture or vision?
- What does the vision mean to them?
- What questions should the vision answer?
- How has the world changed since your organisation’s vision was last updated (if there was one)?
- What are their wishes regarding the working methods used to shape the vision?
Even when the underlying ideas are great, attempts to describe them accurately often lead to off-putting gobbledegook. That’s why it’s often better to phrase a vision as a succinct and attractive summary that you can then use to explain the underlying great ideas when necessary.
Don’t confuse a genuine vision with an artificial slogan
At the other extreme, when you focus on honing the language of your vision to make it appealing, there is a danger of it becoming an artificial slogan. The big risk is when the vision is done retrospectively and by people other than those who shaped its content. Worst is when there is no actual vision and a slogan is commissioned for advertising purposes that does not suit the approach of the organisation or the style of its representatives. This can lead to your vision statement being an embarrassing slogan that is mainly used jokingly.
Ideally, a vision crystallises meanings that are important to the members of the community. For this to happen, it must be accepted that each individual interprets the meanings and the vision from their own perspective. In the past, at least, the processes used in the implementation of vision statements (or values) tended to emphasise methods that involved everyone learning the statement “correctly” word for word. This approach makes it difficult to achieve personal commitment. A good vision statement does not define the desired future too precisely. It must be possible for people to come up with different interpretations of the vision, but in such as way as to stimulate a desire to act towards a shared goal.
Don’t try to please everyone
As opposed to hair-splitting, the temptation in creating a vision is to find an outcome that everyone can commit to and nobody dislikes. Such an outcome will be either too obvious or an unspecific statement that tries to cater to everyone. Such a vision doesn’t really speak to anyone.
Hallmarks of a good vision
- A good vision sparks interest and is not forgotten, meaning that it arises at least once in a while.
- It describes a state of affairs that is different from the present, and is not based on keeping something unchanged or averting a looming threat.
- Is authentic and natural to its community – a good acid test is whether all members of the community can say the vision out loud in a way that sounds natural.
- Avoids monotonous and black-and-white statements – can be described in many different ways, engage in dialogue.
- The target audience has been defined in advance and the language and method of creation have been adapted to the purpose.
- Does not appeal to everyone.
- Inspires further deliberation and interpretation.