Five Participative Processes to Develop Your Vision

Here are my beliefs with respect to visioning:

  • It is more important to have a vision than a vision statement.
  • A vision is best developed through a series of reflective and generative steps (“a process”) and not by simply discussing, “What should our vision be?”
  • Ultimately it is the leader’s or leadership team’s responsibility to develop the vision.
  • A vision is nothing unless it is shared and lived by everyone in the organization (and potentially suppliers and community members too).
  • The best way to ensure a vision is shared is to engage others in the development.

Given these beliefs, the next question becomes “How do you involve stakeholders in developing a vision?”  The following ideas are drawn from my experience facilitating visioning processes for large and small groups.

To set the stage, I share the definition and purpose of a vision, and provide examples:

  • A richly imagined desired future state
  • Your hopes for what your organization will do, have and be in the future
  • A state that is significantly better than today, but more than a solution to today’s issues
  • A stretch but possible
  • Not prescriptive. There should be many ways to achieve the vision.
  • Visual – you can see and imagine it.
  • Emotionally appealing

Participants add to the discussion sharing their own examples of powerful visions.

Then participants work in small groups to develop a vision. Five processes I have found to be engaging and effective are:

  1. From Me to We

Participants write their individual vision, pair up, share and find common ground. The pairs pair up, share and find common ground. Groups of 4 pair up, share and find common ground. Continue pairing until you have 3 – 5 groups. Each group records the key vision ideas they share on a flipchart. Flipcharts are posted like a gallery. The facilitator helps the large group find the common elements across groups.

  1. A Day in the Life

Using guided imagery, the large group “time travels” to a date in the future. The facilitator asks them to imagine what is different. Participants write ideas on post it notes. In small groups, participants cluster ideas and then write a short story or paragraph, “A Day in the Life of (Organization X) in Year (Y)”. Each group shares its story. The facilitator helps the large group find the common elements across the stories.

  1. Timeline (Past, Present, Future) (inspired by the Future Search process)

The facilitator explains the timeline process where participants build a shared understanding of key events that have shaped the organization from the past, where the organization is today, and the future desired state. The facilitator posts a long timeline on the wall divided by years from the founding of the organization through the present day and extending as far as the group wishes to envision. In small groups, participants write ideas on post it notes and then place the ideas at the appropriate places on the timeline. The facilitator helps the large group identify the key elements in the past, present and future.

  1. SOAR 

SOAR is an appreciative or strengths-based approach to visioning and planning where participants identify current STRENGTHS, external OPPORTUNITIES, ASPIRATIONS (which is visioning), and then RESULTS. Small groups work together on each of these steps. The facilitator helps the large group find the common elements in each step.

  1. Collage

In small groups, participants use magazines and art materials to collectively build pictures and headlines that illustrate the desired future state. Each small group talks about their collage, and everyone listens for key words or phrases used by the presenter or evoked by the images. The facilitator helps the large group identify key phrases that are common across the groups.

All of these processes build from individual ideas, which are then clustered into vision elements, which are the foundation for writing a vision statement.

A visioning session may end when the vision elements have been identified, or with small groups drafting vision statements that honor the vision elements. The leadership team may take away the vision elements and/or draft vision statements and reach consensus on the final vision statement. Some organizations further summarize the vision statement to a motto or tagline, which can be used for marketing and branding purposes.

Participative visioning processes enable participants to see their “fingerprints” in the evolution of the vision statement. Participants are therefore more likely to understand, accept and support the vision. Participative visioning also provides a depth of data and robustness to the vision statement itself. There is no need for any leader to bear the pressure of developing a vision on his or her own.






Hearing the Voice of the Customer Over the Din of the Organization

“If we build it, they will come” is the famous line from the movie, Field of Dreams. It represents the old-fashioned “Product Out” approach that some organizations still practice today. In contrast, a “Customer In” approach focuses on deeply understanding customers’ current and future needs, and then designing products and services that meet those needs. These are very different mindsets, the former relying heavily on marketing and the latter, on customer engagement.

“Customer In” starts with customer listening or capturing the Voice of the Customer (VOC). Customer-centric organizations gain high returns for their listening efforts including:

  • Early detection of problems with products and services.
  • Market intelligence including insights on competitors and emerging trends.
  • Ideas for increasing sales, increasing customer satisfaction and therefore, improving business results.

There are many possible “customer listening posts” such as:

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Customer Advisory Groups
  • Inquiries
  • Complaints
  • Touchpoints throughout the sales and service fulfillment process
  • Customer visits and observation (Going to the Gemba)
  • Social media
  • Networking

There is the potential of a rich data flow from these listening posts, but organizations need processes to capture, synthesize, analyze, share and action insights. In addition to finely honed individual listening skills, organizations need organizing systems to get the value from what is heard.

Perhaps even more critical is that organizations need a “Customer In” mindset, and not only in the customer-facing workforce. All employees need to regard customer listening as a process of discovery. A culture of continuous improvement, not blame or fear, is required for open, meaningful customer dialogue.   Customer listening can be a competitive differentiator if it is authentic.


Avoiding the Training Trap

I am surprised how often training is identified as the “go-to” solution for people performance issues. Although I started my career as a corporate trainer, it did not take long to realize there are many other factors besides “know-how” that affect performance.

Robert Mager in his popular book, Analyzing Performance Problems, or You Really Oughta Wanna – How to Figure Out Why People Aren’t Doing What They Should Be, and What to Do About It  (How’s that for a title?) was adamant that training was rarely the best or most economical way to address performance issues.

One of the most helpful models I found for addressing performance issues is Human Performance Technology (HPT)  from the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). The HPT model has three main steps:

  1. Determine the performance gap at the organizational, team or individual level.
  2. Determine the cause of the gap.
  3. Select and implement the appropriate solution.

Step One requires data gathering to identify the gap between current and required performance.

Step Two requires detective work to determine why the performance gap exists. Possible causes could be a lack of:

  • Consequences, incentives or rewards
  • Data, information or feedback
  • Support, resources or tools
  • Individual capacity
  • Motivation and expectations
  • Skills and knowledge

Step Three is the art of matching an appropriate solution to address the cause. If the cause is a lack of consequences, incentives or rewards, the solution may involve changes to the performance management system; for a lack of data, information or feedback, changes to communications processes may be required; for a lack of individual capacity, staffing and work design could be effective solutions, etc.

Training has its place to address skills and knowledge gaps along with other interventions such as coaching and mentoring. But training has been overused as a “sheep-dip” solution for issues that require systemic process and/or policy solutions.

Beware defaulting to “training is the solution”. As the adage goes, if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Jadding and Predictable Tensions

UnknownOne of my first facilitation experiences was co-facilitating a Jadding session in a large oil company where I was a corporate trainer. JAD stood for Joint Application Development – a fairly new process at the time that engaged the client or end user in the design and development of computer applications. It was my first taste of facilitating a process rather than delivering a training program, and I loved it.

One of the models we explored was Predictable Tensions between the priorities and interests of units and centralized corporate groups:

Unit Priorities

  Corporate Priorities
  1. Functionality
  2. Performance
  3. Cost
  4. Support
  5. Standards/Integration
  1. Standards/Integration
  2. Support
  3. Cost
  4. Performance
  5. Functionality

The model, although simplistic, struck me as the Yin and Yang required for effectiveness, opposite but complementary energies. The model helped depersonalize conflict by helping groups “walk in each other’s shoes”.   Groups could confirm or revise their priorities, using the generic list as a starting ground. But most importantly, it gave a language for groups to reach common ground.

I have used the Predictable Tensions model with:

  • Head Office and Field Groups
  • Corporate Functions like HR, Finance, IT and Communications and their internal customer groups
  • National or provincial associations and their local offices

In all cases, it has helped surface unmet expectations, provide insights about conflict, and pave the way to more effective working relationships.




Rock It: Design Tips for Multi-Day Sessions

In a time pressured world, offsite courses and retreats are rarely longer than two or three days. When you are fortunate enough to have this time, it takes extra skill as a designer and facilitator to maintain participants’ interest, energy and learning. Here are a few of my favorite design tips for these occasions:

1. Create a “sub-plot” of secondary activities that complement the objectives of the program, provide variety and create an opportunity for participants to see each other in action.


  • At the beginning of the first day, assign each participant to one of the following teams:
    • News, Weather and Sports Team which is responsible for opening day two and three with a “talk show” format of things to inform and entertain the participants.
    • Energy Team which is responsible for planning and leading activities at scheduled points during the day to raise the energy and fun level in the room.
    • Recognition Team which is responsible for observing and recognizing participants for helpful behaviors at the end of each day.
  • As prework, identify Harvard Business Review articles that are relevant to the objectives of the program. Have each participant select an article and prepare a 5-minute presentation on the key ideas. Schedule the presentations throughout the session.

2. Design in variety.


  • Ensure the agenda appeals to all learning styles (visual, auditory and kinesthetic).
  • Build in a mix of solo, pair, small group and large group activities.
  • Change the seating arrangements each day or half-day.
  • Bring in guest speakers, customers, organizational leaders, etc. for cameo appearances.
  • Add an outdoor experiential activity, artistic venture, or volunteer activity for the community.

3. Use a visual roadmap.


  • Line a wall with paper. Use graphic facilitation to depict the key activities and learnings each day. Start and end each day with a review of the journey so far.
  • Post and review the session objectives, shading the ones that have been completed.

Multi-day sessions are a huge investment in time and cost. Design well to maximize the return.

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