Characteristics of an Effective Vision: Create a DRIVING Vision

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-orientedA 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 valuesIt 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?

18 comments to Characteristics of an Effective Vision: Create a DRIVING Vision

  • Jesse,

    Unfortunately, I have come across very few departments or companies that seem to have a driving vision. The vision statements that I have seen are usually similar to the general one you mentioned in the post. I doubt the employees of these companies have much of a connection to the vision. And if employees don’t have a connection to the vision, I don’t think the vision has much power.

    I wonder, why do you think this number is so low (i.e. below 10%)? Is it simply because of laziness? Or is it just difficult to come up with a driving vision that employees embrace?

    I’m curious what your thoughts are about this.

    • Hi Greg,
      It’s a questions I’ve been mulling over for the past few years. I think part of the problem is those of us who made a big push for the importance of vision in the 1980′s haven’t done a good job of showing people how to create one that really works, and people have become disillusioned. They’ve seen vision used for the wrong purposes – as marketing slogans that don’t reflect the reality of the workplace, as empty promises, and as a veiled excuse to downsize.
      I asked the question in a recent post to see what others thought and got some very interesting responses that address your question: What Happened to Vision, Your Thoughts? And if you have thoughts to add, I’d love to hear them.
      Lately I’ve been focusing on the space between the high level view of the vision and the day-to-day realities. I think we need to put more effort into helping leaders at all levels understand their role in connecting and translating the vision into action. My recent post Manage the Mid-Space or Your Vision Will Fail speaks to this issue.
      Thanks for raising this important question. It’s certainly one I’m concerned about as well.

  • Thanks Jesse. I will try this today during a strategic planning session. Too many Leaders and Teams either ignore Vision, or do it poorly when working on their strategic plan. How can you plan without being guided by your purpose..

  • Hi Jesse –

    In response to Greg’s question above, I appreciate your acknowledgement of the space between the high level view of the vision and the day-to-day realities.

    Whether because of a lack of vision or short-term financial and/or political pressures, people and organizations get caught up in the urgent, versus the important, often losing the ability to differentiate between the two, forever operating in a short-term, reactive mindset, instead of taking the longer term view that comes with a larger strategic vision for the organization. Ironically, however, it’s the longer term, values aligned vision that invigorates employees to go the distance, increasing the odds for success.

    Question: How do you teach vision to those leaders who are linear and tactical in their leadership; who do not see or understand the value of vision?

    Thank you, as always, for sharing your wisdom and experience with each of us.

    -Sharon

    • Hi Sharon,
      You highlight the “V” in DRIVING – “Vibrant” – the importance of being proactive instead of reactive. There are a lot of pressures that push us into a reactive mode, and often we have to consciously remind ourselves to shift to proactive. You raise a question I’ve been wondering about a lot. How do we help people who tend to naturally think tactically learn to think strategically. According to Carl Jung, there are innate preferences toward tactical and strategic (and as measured on the MBTI as “sensing” and “intuitive”). But I’m not convinced that we can’t help people make the shift. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  • Visions and values are important to all organizations, but it’s rarely clear to folks, including those at the top, about how they should be used. Thankfully, we’re getting past the stage where companies simply posted them on the lobby wall. We’re also well past the stage where many an organization realized that they actually have to consciously implement strategy across the business, not just produce a document from the HQ tower.

    The issue / opportunity with vision is have it climb down from it’s lofty perch in the clouds.

    It’s time for vision to be viewed as a piece of overall strategy and that a conscious effort be made to both implement it and measure it’s effectiveness in helping people live the strategy.

    I’ve done work with an organization on implementing the vision in order to live it. Their recently refreshed vision was reviewed by the management team for a 1/2 day. It proved challenging for some of the team because they were not living the vision (until then politics mostly prevailed). It brought the weaker parts of their culture out of the closet and it helped a more conscious effort to deliver the vision came to the fore.

    One of the ways I have seen an organization manage the conflict between vision and constantly changing tactics is to provide a regularly updated list of ‘current priorities’ that accompany the vision. I saw this at the worker’s entrance to a successful manufacturing plant. When I asked if the large poster on the wall was discussed very often the answer was, ‘all the time’.

    • So true, Alan. I share your concerns. In our book Full Steam Ahead, we explain that What’s important about vision is not only “what it says”, but also “how it’s created,” “how it’s communicated,” and “how it’s lived,” and it is organized in those sections. The best vision statement means nothing if it’s not understood, embraced and lived.

      I agree we need to do a better job of helping people understand how to translate the lofty view at 30,000 feet to the on-the-ground realities. (Check out the blog post I recommended in my comment to Greg). And I agree that those of us who support leaders need to do a better job of helping them understand not only the importance of vision, but also the importance of involving people in its creation, of setting up communication, reward, accountability and development systems and work processes that are aligned with the vision, the importance of modeling it, of helping leaders at all levels understand their role and responsibility for translating it, and of keeping it alive by integrating it into daily life.

      Thanks for sharing the great example of how an organization can use the vision to guide setting strategy and evaluating priorities. Too often, with the constant changes we face, we stay focused on strategies and goals that no longer are aligned with the vision and consequently lose sight of the vision.

      I am not as optimistic as you are that we are past the stage of simply posting them on the wall (or the internet). Way too often there is a complete a mismatch between what I find on websites and what I experience as a consumer. And even more often, the vision statements I read, are so lofty, so generic, they could have been generated by a computer program – which was the motivation behind this particular post.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and excellent suggestions, Alan.

  • My experience with Vision statements is that the people that create the vision are the ones who get most from it. The process of creation develops both ownership and a nuanced understanding of what each word means, what has been considered and rejected as well as what stands in the final version. The lesson is that the corporate vision needs to be translated at each level or department to a specific vision that supports the corporate vision. The vision for customer service departments may not be the same as the technology area however both will link to each other like overlapping circles. The opportunity is for organisations to facilitate the creation of vision statements at each level down to personal vision statements. Inclusion and involvement generate the energy.

    • Absolutely! And well-said Peter. This is such an important point. It doesn’t matter how nicely the statement is crafted if it was done in isolation. One of my areas of expertise is facilitating high involvement meetings where a cross-section of the organization comes together to create a shared vision and make decisions in real time. I have facilitated two- or three-day meetings for groups as large as 800 people. It’s very powerful experience, and it creates a critical mass that advances the vision and the strategies to achieve it very quickly. My hope for that this post is that it could be used in such a situation as they consider their vision, so they don’t end up with “God, mother and apple-pie.”

  • (Note: I clicked on the link to the “What Happened to Vision? Your Thoughts?” post and it actually linked to this post. But I did a Google search and found the post at this link: http://seapointcenter.com/your-thoughts-pleas/.)

    This is an extremely interesting and extremely important subject…

    I thought about all of this more last night and this morning. And then I just read the “What Happened to Vision? Your Thoughts?” and “Manage the Mid-Space or Your Vision Will Fail” posts along with the comments in all three posts.

    I’ll include my thoughts below, but the way I see it was basically covered in your “Manage the Mid-Space” post, your response to Alan Kay’s comment in this post, Daniel Honeywell’s comment in the “What Happened to Vision?” post, and in the comments of a couple of others.

    With that in mind, here are my thoughts…

    One thing that really fired me up was reading about Frank’s situation in the “Manage the Mid-Space” post. He are a couple of things he said:

    “Our company had a big meeting a few weeks ago where the president laid out his vision…

    “I’m in charge of the eastern sales force. Part of this vision requires moving our sales force away from the corporate headquarters and closer to the properties we own so they can be close to our customer base. We have major properties in eight cities in my region, so my sales folks will relocate there.”

    Honestly, when I read this, I thought to myself “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

    It sounds like the president pretty much came up with this vision on his own without getting much or any feedback from Frank and the members of the sales force that he manages. I’m going to assume this is what happened.

    If this is what happened, this means that all of these people were going to have to uproot their families and move to new cities. And none of them had any say in the move. Even if moving the sales force to these cities to be closer to the customers is the right move, I can pretty much guarantee that a large percentage of the sales force will not be happy about this simply because they weren’t consulted about it. And this will create problems for the organization. At a minimum, morale will probably be significantly lower.

    The word I immediately noticed when I started reading this post was the word “his” (from “the president laid out his vision…”). It wasn’t THEIR vision, it was HIS.

    I think the proper move would have been for the president to first meet with Frank and the sales force and get feedback from them about moving the sales force closer to the customers. He could have said, “Here are the reasons I think this might be a good idea. But I want to get your thoughts first, because I value your feedback and you all will be greatly affected by this decision.”

    My point is that unless lower-level employees buy into the vision, it will not have a significant impact. I’m amazed at how many executives think they can be successful by just announcing an initiative to the employees in the company without first getting their feedback.

    If executives would take more of an interest in lower-level employees and value their feedback more, I think a powerful vision could be created where everybody buys into it.

    However, if you don’t care about what your employees think, they are probably not going to care very much about the vision.

    • I had the same reaction, Greg. (Although, I don’t know what process was used or who was involved in creating the vision since it was a short conversation and I didn’t ask). interestingly, Frank sounded very enthusiastic, so clearly he had bought into it and thought it was a great idea. Maybe there were plans in the organization to communicate with the rest of the next level and to get their buy-in. And they might be successful in doing it.

      However, what most concerned me was that Frank didn’t see that he had a role to play. It seemed like he was a passenger going along for the ride. As you said, he saw it as “THEIR vision, not HIS.” Ultimately, unless the vision is “owned” by everyone, it will not be sustainable.

      As you point out, the best way to ensure ownership and also to ensure you’ve got the best thinking is through involvement. Here’s another post I think you’ll enjoy: No More P Words, Please!

      ps. Sorry about providing the wrong link earlier. I appreciate your effort to find that post.

  • As always, great read and insightful comments. What has become abundantly clear to me more recently is the need to have “facilitation and a cross section of representation rather than the isolated team” coming up with the vision. I think what most leaders battle with is they stall that part of the process as they feel they need to walk in with a Vision, which defeats the purpose of having the collective. What I walk in with, versus the next person may form part of the final outcome, but if I am attached to my vision being the one I sell to the rest of the team, then it will be a vision that has meaning for me at best, but certainly not vibrant enough for the rest to rally behind!

    • Thanks for weighing in, Thabo. You make a cogent case for involvement in the process of creating the vision, which I absolutely agree with.

      On another note, I am struck that although my post is about the “what” (what it says), most of the comments are about the “how” (the process for creating it). I think this happened because by only addressing the “what,” I created an imbalance that needed correction. They really shouldn’t be separated. I was challenged by having a lot to say about the “what” and being limited by length. I’ve addressed the other side of the equation in my next post (just published). Thanks to you and to all who commented on the importance of the process by which it is created.

  • Marc Logman

    I personnaly strongly believe in a proactive vision. This is what I also emphasize in marketing for the future. Marketing should become more entrepreneurial (market driving) instead of traditional (market driven).

    prof. dr. Marc Logman (consultant at http://www.logicalmanagement.be)

    Read more in Entrepreneurial marketing (English textbook). A guide for startups and companies with growth ambitions: http://bit.ly/yBRofe

  • Marc Logman

    One more thing I believe a more interesting alternative to the traditional vision (will be thinking) is to use an abductive approach (may be thinking all the time). It offers more flexibility than a fixed destination that you have in mind. If interested, see abstract of research results on http://bit.ly/silOhs

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Marc. I agree that vision is not about a fixed destination – or at least one that can be totally envisioned right from the beginning – which is why I say that that closer you get to your vision, the more clear it becomes. The vision has not fundamentally changed, but you understand what it means in a different way and see more possibilities of what can become and what actions are implied. I also agree that a deductive approach to vision does not work. Convergent thinking limits the possibilities. I like the way you are looking at how we think about vision and appreciate your sharing your article and research results.

  • [...] leadership blogging star Jesse Lyn Stoner, from Jesse Lyn Stoner Blog, gives us Characteristics of an Effective Vision: Create a DRIVING Vision. What’s the difference between a vague, “pie-in-the-sky” vision and one that [...]

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