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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.