Sometimes the organization’s sense of purpose and direction is the result of a brilliant and visionary leader, who’s influence sweeps up the enterprise in his or her own enthusiasm for the future they see. Other times, in the absence of such a visionary leader, the shared vision must be discovered and adopted by a group of leaders and propagated through circles of influence within the organization. Regardless, without a shared vision, the business will take one or more aimless and meandering paths and miss the opportunity to set its own self-chosen direction. This article addresses methods for developing a cohesive future-state vision for business strategy development.
How The Vision Is Achieved Depends Upon The Starting Point
In planning initiatives, it is common for decisions to be made at one level of the organization that deeply affect the whole enterprise or at least specific areas of the organization. When the entire ecosystem of an organization is understand, planners gain a formal understanding of how parts of the organization interact, act, and respond to change. This understanding makes it possible to evaluate the likely consequences, risks, and outcomes of strategic decisions.
The holistic understanding of the business ecosystem that comes from having conducted a current-state analysis allows for strategic planning to optimize the shortest path to the future-state, once it has been defined. That path is dependent upon an understanding of the business’s core values, culture, value proposition, organizational value quadrants, org structure relative to culture and external competitive environment by line-of-business (including key players like customers, suppliers, partners and channel relationships).
The following articles offer guidance on determining an organization’s starting point and strategic needs:
Creating a Shared Vision
So how does an organization develop a shared vision when one does not exist? A workshop approach called “Visioning” is a very impactful way to begin.
Visioning is based on the premise that “what you can see, you can achieve.” Visioning gives the organization a greater sense of purpose and allows individuals to personalize the purpose, thereby increasing the likelihood of success. Envisioning workshops, visual facilitation, and 3-D modeling are techniques that can be used to help individuals clearly answer the question, “What will be realized by the company and the team if we meet our objectives?” The resulting vision creates a powerful platform for change.
These types of visioning processes help the executive team begin to sort through the possibilities and agree upon the outcomes they want to achieve without concern for how they will be achieved. Visioning workshops generally prove to break the ice and allow the creative process to work, producing substantial and relevant input upon which to begin future-state planning.
With great future-state goals and ideas on the table after visioning has been completed, the challenge is to begin sorting and prioritizing various aspects of the future-state ideas. The constraints of limited energy and available resources make it imperative to know the value that can be expected when a targeted goal (future-state key outcome) is achieved. Mathematical models can be used to create relative values for each of the key outcomes the planning team has defined in the visioning phase. Relative value assignments remove bias from the picture and can be used to prioritize the opportunities with the highest values ahead of those with lower values.
The following articles offer guidance on prioritizing strategic needs using this method:
The Outcomes Of Visioning
So what should executives and planners expect as an outcome from visioning? In addition to the newly created and prioritized list of future-state goals, visioning helps create a shared sense of purpose for the organization. Ideas converge into a consensus on strategic outcomes that the company needs to see realized over the next 12 months as well as three and five year periods. Executives, for the first time in many cases, begin to share a common vision of the future for the company.
Another valuable benefit comes from the clarity gained by executive planners related to the “inhibitors” and “accelerators” that must be managed like gears in accomplishing the shared vision. Inhibitors can be thought of as areas of concern that must be addressed during the planning process, while accelerators are strengths that can be leveraged to make faster progress.
For instance, gaps in current-state core competencies and required future-state core competencies would emerge as inhibitors to mitigate, while strong core values and culture would be powerful thrusters to propel the organization forward.
Lastly, visioning positions the executive team to be a unified front, re-invigorated by the process of envisioning their future and hopeful instead of resigned.
Mapping The Most Direct Route: The Cow Path Analogy
Some important coordinates are needed to map the most direct route between two locations: the point of origin and the destination. Knowing the shortest route is essential to reach the destination (the goal) in less time and with less effort expended. The business translation of saved time and effort is money. This money comes in the form of savings accomplished by reaching the vision goals sooner or money gained in terms of revenue that is realized as a result of reaching a new level of operational capacity. Conversely, time wasted in reaching the desired future-state can equate to opportunity cost in terms of missed revenue due to unfulfilled future-state goals.
Cattle ranchers know that their herds enjoy making their way down to the shade and comfort of a river valley, leaving behind trails that cross through pastures and rough terrain. Looking down from a vantage point atop a hill, one can see many such paths that criss cross and meander towards the herd’s destination, indirect and seemingly aimless. That aimlessness is reminiscent of how many businesses approach growth when operating without a shared vision of the future.
Assuming the future-state goals are based in reality, there are really no valid excuses for businesses to take sub-optimal paths to their strategic future-state. The only action required is to take stock of where the organization is today (the current-state) and have a shared vision in order to map out the most direct route to the future-state.
Without a shared vision, a business will take indirect and meandering paths towards growth and prosperity. The missed opportunity to set and control the business’s own direction will leave it to fate and the actions of competitors to determine the organization’s destiny.
Additional Strategic Planning Resources
Free Strategic Planning Article Compilations and PDFs:
- Strategic Planning Monthly: September 2012 Edition
- Free access to the Strategic Planning Monthly: Archive
- Free Online Strategic Planning Articles Library
Free Strategic Planning PDF Downloads