In Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision, we provide this definition of vision:
“Vision is knowing who you are, where you’re going, and what will guide the journey.” - Ken Blanchard and Jesse Lyn Stoner
A much earlier definition I wrote is quoted by Zig Ziglar in Over the Top:
“A vision is a clearly-articulated, results-oriented picture of a future you intend to create. It is a dream with direction.” – Jesse Stoner-Zemel
Both definitions are accurate, but to more fully explain the characteristics of an effective vision – a vision that drives commitment and direction – I use the acronym DRIVING. It helps avoid ending up with something that is so vague or lofty, it has no meaning. Use this to evaluate your current vision or to help in creating one.
D – Demanding purpose. The invitation and opportunity to achieve greatness excites and enlivens us. A noble purpose that challenges us to rise to our potential is inspiring and appeals to our natural human instincts. It helps us understand the importance of our work and gives meaning to our daily activities.
R – Results-oriented. A vision describes a clear picture of what the future will look like – something you can actually see in your imagination. It is a picture of the end-result – what it looks like when you are fulfilling your purpose. It does not include the process to get there. The vision is the target. The effectiveness of the strategies and goals you set will be tested by how well they move you toward your vision, and often requires adjustment.
I – Illuminating values. It is easier to stay focused and motivated when the vision connects with what we care deeply about – our values. And when the vision has been taken into the minds and hearts of the people, it endures beyond the tenure of the leader who articulated it. Values are implicit in driving visions. (eg. The values in Martin Luther King, Jrs “Dream” are clearly implied: brotherhood, freedom, and dignity.) And the values are fundamentally connected with the organization’s purpose. We would expect a vision of a financial services organization to describe accuracy, reliability and dependability and a vision for an amusement park to describe fun and safety. It’s impossible to create an inspiring vision that does not illuminate underlying values.
V –Vibrant. Creating a vision about what you want, a proactive vision, is what makes it vibrant and energizing. A reactive vision based on negativity and what you want to get rid of is short-lived because it does not take you anywhere. And a vision that excludes or does harm to its environment is not sustainable because the organization it part of its environment and ultimately is doing harm to itself.
I – Identifiable. It should be clear exactly what the company it is about and easily explainable in plain language. It should show what is unique about the organization and what differentiates it. Here’s an example of a generic statement from a real company. “Our vision is to provide aggressive strategic marketing with quality products and services at competitive prices to provide the best value for consumers.” These kinds of statements mean nothing and even worse make people lose confidence in the leadership of their company.
N – Never-ending. A vision should not be about beating the competition. Where do you go after the race is over? It’s about being the best you can be. It’s not about “being number one,” because again, that defines you in terms of your competition instead of where you are going. In fact, the closer you get to your vision, the clearer the magnitude and meaning of the vision becomes and it enlarges. There is no such thing as a five-year vision, only a five-year goal. The vision is what answers, “what’s next?” after that goal is achieved.
G – Guiding. A vision provides guidance for daily decisions and actions. Because each person can see where they fit and how their actions contribute, they can be trusted to make decisions. Empowerment only makes sense in the context of a shared vision. But when the organization is guided by a shared vision, the role of leadership naturally shifts from controlling and managing to supporting and enabling.
Last year in surveys of over 500 people, less than 10% said their team or organization had a driving vision. Here is a link to a similar questionnaire, if you would like to check out your own team and get instant results: Vision Test – Is Your Team’s Vision 20/20?