Organizational Vision – You Can’t See Your Way Without It

Vision - 25 Questions for Organizational Vision

How can you ever get to where you want to be if you don’t know where you’re going?

I’ve known leaders who were absolute…well, visionaries.  Ones whose insight and perceptions were so far forward, it was as if they operated in a different time stream. They could inspire, charm and cajole people to do things that seemed impossible.  When the focus is right and the resources available, vision works a bit like magic. A strategic vision makes sure your organization is where it needs to be when it needs to be there. Unfortunately, all visions are not created equal and a poor vision or the absence of a vision can have a negative effect on you and your organization.

When Vision Goes Wrong 

  • Too Far Forward: When a vision is set too far forward connecting the dots between the long-term objectives and the day to day work of employees becomes challenging if not impossible. This type of vision operates in much the same way as a bad fit does.  It creates pressure on staff to meet objectives that cannot be achieved because they are either poorly prepared, under-resourced or do not understand what they are trying to achieve. In these instances, staff will often revert back to old behaviour or activities. This not only undermines the vision but can undermine the external relationships of the organization. For an association, this can mean that members turn to alternative resources to meet their immediate needs. For businesses, when a vision is too far forward customers may seek services elsewhere or hold back to see what early adopters think of the new products or services.
  • Out of Alignment: When the vision is out of alignment with an organization it means that the work of the organization does not synch up with the activities required to meet the vision. The result is multiple priorities will begin to compete for attention. Staff can feel conflicted or feel pressure from being under-resourced.  The consequence is that they become disengaged or demoralized. There can also be financial consequences as managers struggle to find the resources to meet immediate requirements while also trying to keep pace with the demands of the vision. In an association, it can create frustration with members as services they need disappear or become under-resourced in lieu of services they don’t understand or are not prepared to use.
  • No Vision At All: Having no vision at all is also destructive to an organization.  When there is no clear vision in place employees tend to default to doing the same things they have always done.  This strangles innovation and can result in a slow erosion of organizational relevance. In an association, it can mean a growing gulf between the organization and its members. In a product or service business, it can result in a disconnect between customers and the company.  You can’t have good customer service if you’re disconnected from your customers evolving needs.

How to Develop A Vision

So while having a vision is critical to achieving your goals, not all visions are the right fit. To ensure that your vision aligns with your organization, start by

Start by reflecting on what you want and what you are trying to achieve. Imagine what your world would look like if things were exactly as you wanted if you had no limitations.   Ask questions. Start by identifying your big picture vision by asking big questions.

25 Organizational Vision Questions

  1. What are your big long-term goals? What would be different if your vision became reality?
  2. How do you plan on achieving your goals or how do you plan on being successful?
  3. What do you need (capabilities and skills) to keep your competitive edge?
  4. What time frame are you covering with your vision? Note that if you go too far into the future your vision is likely to fail.  Given the current pace of change in technology 10 years is a long time. If your vision is unresponsive to emerging ideas or demands, it will become more of a hindrance than a help.
  5. What have you accomplished to date? What have your big wins been?
  6. What innovations have you developed?
  7. What problem or challenge are you trying to address?
  8. Who benefits from your products or services? What is your target audience’s demographics?
  9. How easy is your solution to use?
  10. How costly or time consuming is it compared to alternatives?
  11. How do your stakeholders or community view your organization?
  12. How do your customers or members view you?
  13. How do your employees see you?
  14. Could you improve internal collaboration? If it is working well, why is it?
  15. If your members had to identify the three things they thought you did well, what would they be?
  16. What do industry experts have to say about you?
  17. How do your suppliers see you?
  18. What do your employees look like? What are their demographics?
  19. Who are your leaders? What style do they use to lead?
  20. Have you been working with new or unexpected stakeholders? Why?
  21. Are there services or activities you could offer but are not currently providing?
  22. Are you regionally focused? Could you expand or should you narrow your focus?
  23. What are your strengths?
  24. What is your unique offering?
  25. What would you achieve if you were more confident or less risk averse?

The more specific your questions, the more likely you are to come out with an effective vision.  For instance, you may want to influence people or make their lives better.  However, there are a number of ways you can do this that won’t necessarily help your organization to succeed. Therefore, how you help them to make their lives better becomes an important question to help focus your vision.

Why Visions Work

So what does a vision do that makes it work? According to productivity expert, Ann Max, one of the basic things a vision does is give you a framework to operate in. It provides a focus and a path to follow. In essence, a vision gives you structure. In many respects, it also provides hope and optimism, a very powerful combination to get you and your employees motivated.

Acquiring a vision can seem like a slow process, but the thing that makes it doable is that it can start off simply. It can begin with questions you can easily answer and only when you have one level firmly pictured do you move on to the next set of questions and details.

Taking your questions externally allows you step outside of any internal biases, blind spots or misconceptions you may have about what you can do or how you are doing it. Talking to people you respect or who have similar challenges may also provide you with insight that will help you to set a better path.

The first time I did this visioning exercise was more than fifteen years ago.  I imagined myself working in a collegial environment, meeting lots of interesting people, doing intellectually challenging work and working for a cause that I cared about.  There were more details, but even the ones that seemed frivolous like the artwork in my office or the view out the window (and there has always been a window) have usually come to pass. I doubt I would have followed that first job opportunity if I hadn’t firmly pictured where I wanted to land. This approach has worked when I’ve done it to resolve project barriers, staffing hurdles or personal challenges.

I would love to hear your feedback.  What do you do to get yourself focused and on target?  How do you know when the vision you choose is the right one?

Related Article:

26 Personal Vision Questions 


0 responses to “Organizational Vision – You Can’t See Your Way Without It

  • Sometimes we are torn between decisions. Could it be because we’ve not invested time sharpening our vision in life; I’m learning…vision directs decision.

  • becc03 says:
    May 26, 2013 @ 11:06 pm

    I agree totally that a vision “gives you hope, a very powerful combination to get motivated”. I am in that void where I haven’t got my vision down properly yet and it is leading to confusion. It is time to set this as a priority again to move things forward.
    Thank you for the much need kick up the behind 🙂

    • Being distracted by a variety of real and personal challenges doesn’t leave a lot of room for introspection, never mind creating a personal vision. You’re a strong person so it was just a question of time before you worked it out on your own…but if a little kick helped, glad to be of service. 🙂

  • I think you are right on the money! We spend so much time at work that if our work isn’t meaningful, our lives lose a bit of meaning. Having vision (and looking at the bigger picture) is key to brining in that meaning.

    • I’m always amazed when people tell me that it’s “just work” after relating some demoralizing or frustrating event. Life is too short to spend so much of it miserable.

  • Laurel says:
    May 24, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

    I love the ‘vision” concept Debra. It is not something that I had ever considered in my career journeys. I do however, embrace the concept of ‘manifestation’ and I have used it to reach for and obtain career goals, as well as personal goals. Since manifestation is a perceptible, outward, or visible expression of something, it is seems similar to a vision to me. Manifestation fits into my brain because I am a doer. I need to make things happen. I want to make things happen. I know “that job” will suit my lifestyle, meets my skill set and will make me happy…now I find a million ways to go it. What you have put forward in your blog makes so much sense to me. Maybe I never realized that I was laying out a vision for myself, and that I naturally jumped into manifesting where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.

  • Debra — such a thoughtful and provocative post. No matter at what stage you are in life — and I’m happily living my final vision for my career — you need to be envisioning if what you are doing now will lead to you where you want to go. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that road map. It’s a very difficult exercise to ask yourself the questions you posed when you’re unsure of what you want. Or, we’re afraid that what we want is unattainable. We’re afraid to make the effort. I hope your advice helps people with making the difficult choices to choose the right path.

    • Thanks Jeannette. I wonder which is harder, asking uncomfortable questions or living with the consequences of not asking? I honestly think its a tough call, but I opt to ask because at least then I don’t have to worry about all the surprises I’m going to encounter along the way, as well as, the surprise waiting for me at an unknown destination. 🙂

  • Your post made me think of that Diana Ross song, “Do you know where you’re going to?” While it’s important to have goals, you need to map out how you’re going to get there. Sometimes, it helps to write it out – or draw it out, whatever works for you. And remember to be flexible, because sometimes life throws a little curve ball your way …

    • Couldn’t agree more. Although I love to write, I often don’t want to take the time to write up a vision, but putting the pen to paper provides additional strength to the structure and can also bring focus.

  • HI Debra, The second line in your post, ” How do you find shortcuts if you’re not sure of your destination?” explained it all to me. It’s about having a very clear vision isn’t it. If your vision is even a little blurry you can’t accomplish your goals. I have had that problem several times. I had an idea of what I wanted but it was not concise so I could not and did not succeed. I think it helps to write it down – to make it real.

    • You are spot on. Clarity matters. I get lazy and think, I’m more or less on top of what I want, but in reality, I’ve only started to think about it. It takes time and energy, but its worth it.

  • I recently finished graduate school where we discussed a vision in the corporate setting. It is interesting to place that in a personal setting as well. At this point in life and the end of school it seems like I am expected to know what I want to do. I have some ideas. I’m going to use your questions to make those ideas clearer in my head and hopefully easier to explain as I job search. Thanks for writing on this topic!

  • Vision is so important. And it’s actually harder than it looks. Our natural inclination is to see life through a narrow window. It just feels right to see a work week or what you are going to do on the holiday weekend, but you have to dig deeper if you would like to carve out the life you want. I try to sit back from time to time and envision every aspect of my life. Every piece. See it from the lens of what would make me happy. That’s it. Not what makes the most money or what is the natural extension of what I’m doing now, but what makes me happy.

    • I totally agree with the money thing. If that becomes your focus you’re doomed to succeed in your goal and fail in everything else. Even a homeless person begging on the street will make a little money every once in a while. Visions have to be made up bigger ideas. As friend recently reminded me, Martin Luther King didn’t say, “I have a balanced budget…” 🙂

  • mkslagel says:
    May 22, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

    Great and helpful post. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I recently graduated college and I have no idea what I want to do yet. While most people set out with one vision, I have set out with many. Some have changed while others are the same. I really need to sit down and come up with some sort of direction however.

    • Thanks Mary. It doesn’t seem odd to me that you have to choose amongst visions. I’m more amazed at people who absolutely know what they want to do at the start and just set about making a plan to do it. Humans are complicated creatures, why should our possible visions be any different. The only thing to watch is never deciding.

  • Agree with you, Debra. Having a vision is fundamental. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you get there?:-)

    It’s also important to beware that there will be turns on the road to get there and you have to adapt or drive off the road.

    Another important thing is to not be ahead of time and working to achieve a vision that the world around you isn’t yet ready for. That’s happened to a lot of visionaries and years later someone else has achieved what they aimed for, sometimes after the visionary has passed away.

    • That last point is a tough one. It’s so sad when you see someone who is absolutely doing the right thing but is totally out of synch. I had a colleague who created an amazing program for an advanced practice in his profession, but it was about ten years before the profession was even ready to look at it. By then he’d gotten discouraged and moved on.

  • The start of your article reminded me of a moment attributed to Alice in Wonderlad. When she is trying to find here way she is asked well “well, where are you gong?” She answers that she doesn’t know. The response to this ” then it doesn’t matter the path you take.” Our vision of the future determines the path we must take to get there.

  • I had a vision of getting an education, and teaching just sort of happened. I’m stubborn, so it took me a while to realize it wasn’t the right vision for me. I never do things small, so when the chance came to quit, I jumped on it. Unfortunately my plan for writing didn’t go much further than that. It’s been interesting to stake my new path, but I feel I am on the right one, the path I should have continued to pursue when I was studying writing in college. Even though I enjoyed many aspects of teaching, it wasn’t the right path for me, since almost every morning on my drive to school I would ask myself if I could see myself teaching for the next 20 years. When I ask myself I I see myself writing and editing for the rest of my life, the answer is definitely yes. Now I just have to work on defining my vision and setting realistic goals.

    • Jeri, the fact that you actually ask yourself the questions that you do, “Do I see myself doing this for the next 20 years…” is so much further than most people ever get in the conversation. Most people hesitate to ask because they are afraid of the answer. If you say, “No, I can’t see myself doing this.” then an even tougher question shows up, “So what are you going to be doing?”. To me you’ve already done the hard work, you built the structure. In fact, you’ve done more, you’re on the final edit of your second book, I’d say you’re just picking curtains now. 🙂

  • This is such great advise. It is easy to just let life flow, not always to a happy end. When you take to create a vision, your vision it really helps set your course to a desire destination. This outline principle can be applied to any part of our life. For me, I am involved in where my desired next steps should be and where I ultimately want to go. Such an easy statement take I realize will take some work. Thank you for the gentle push to take the right steps my friend.

  • Arleen says:
    May 21, 2013 @ 10:06 am

    I look at visions as the power of the mind. We all have it but do not use the wonderful gift and the. Power of suggestion. I focus on what I want and then visualize as if it already happened. You remember the old comment “Be careful for what you wish you for”. Everything you do there is a plan whether known or unknown. Interesting article

    • It’s amazing what your mind can do, often making the impossible seem common place. It’s funny, you used the expression, “Careful what you wish for.” When my kids are wishing unpleasant things on each other I always tell them off, because I do think the subconscious is a powerful and sometimes terrifying thing. 🙂

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