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What is Strategic Vision?

Vision is central to your strategy. It is your imagined successful future. It is why you do what you do. It is the meaningful impact you hope to have. In short, it is part inspiration and part destination.


Without Vision, your strategy may be brilliant, but it will never truly motivate. And a strategy must motivate. Your people will not give their all unless your strategy provides compelling reasons to care. The motivating element of your strategy is Vision.


Bottom-half strategy

What happens if you create a strategy without Vision? You end up with a bottom-half strategy. This is a strategy that outlines priorities and expected results but does not explain why they are crucial to your success. Bottom-half strategies may motivate some people, but they will not motivate most people.


Imagine your organization tells you to grow revenue for your team by 10%, introduce a new product, and improve employee engagement.


It would be natural to want to know why these particular objectives are critical right now and how they represent the next best step towards fulfilling your organization’s purpose. But a bottom-half strategy will not communicate these things.


Organizations that use bottom-half strategies, of which there are many, are missing a significant opportunity to align and inspire. People in these organizations often experience strategy as a process that charts a new, unexplained direction for the organization every year. Or worse, they come to see strategy as just another list of to-dos and targets. We have a name for that: it is called “a grind.”


Strategies founded on Vision

Strategies with Vision inspire because they are explicit about why the organization exists, who the organization serves, and the meaningful impact they aspire to have.


Strategies with Vision naturally connect seemingly conflicting choices in different years because they are rooted in the long-term pursuit of a defined destination.


Strategies with Vision clarify the facets of your culture that are critical to your success.


Strategies with Vision help you employ metrics and performance targets as they should be used: not as an end in and of themselves, but rather as imperfect tools that quantify progress towards your Vision.


How do you create strategic Vision?

Often, we hear of the three layers at the top of the “strategic pyramid”: Mission, Vision, and Values. These three layers are usually summarized as the part of your strategy that provides Vision. Do these statements give us Vision?


Let us review each one to find out.


The Vision Statement

Most people have heard the phrase “Vision Statement.” Many of you have probably drafted one or participated in its creation. A Vision Statement is usually a succinct phrase or paragraph that tries to capture what we see as our wildly successful future. For example, in the 1980s, Microsoft purportedly used this vision statement: “A microcomputer on every desk and in every home running Microsoft software.”


This is a succinct statement. It described an ambitious and imagined successful future. It ticks many of the boxes of a Vision Statement and is regarded by many as an exceptional example of a Vision Statement.


However, it is not a complete Vision. No single statement can be.


There is simply too much to explore beyond what can fit in a pithy statement. For example, why is Microsoft interested in a computer on every desk and every home? What value does this bring to businesses? What value does this bring to homes, or presumably the people in these homes? What mindsets and behaviours are critical to Microsoft’s ability to put a computer on every desk and in every home? And most importantly, why should your people want to put a microcomputer on every desk?


Most Vision Statements are inward looking. The statements clarify a successful future from the perspective of the organization. But they do not clarify why that successful future is so important.


To be clear, describing your successful future is an important part of Vision. But you need more.


The Mission Statement

Some believe a Mission Statement describes the business or industry in which you operate. A manufacturer of shoes for a certain market, for example. If this is all a Mission statement is, then it is not of much use.

However, let us consider a more promising type of Mission Statement, one centered on purpose. According to Graham Kenney, a good purpose statement expresses the organizations’ impact on the lives of those you serve[ii]. This is a concept that can help us clarify Vision.


As an example, consider a property developer that makes and sells homes. They may choose families as their primary beneficiary. They may believe their meaningful impact is helping families access affordable housing in vibrant communities that are safe, shared, and welcoming.


Upon considering who the organization serves (families) and the meaningful impact they wish to have, we have a pretty good idea of what this organization is about and, more importantly, why it exists in the first place.


We can imagine how this organization is fundamentally different from other developers who view their shareholders as their primary stakeholders and profit as their meaningful impact.


Purpose and an imagined future give us two important views of Vision. But neither of these speak to the culture that is critical to pursuing our purpose and achieving our imagined future.


Core Value Statements

We have explored the mission statement and the vision statement. What about core values? Do they clarify the culture necessary to realize our Vision?


Core values as used by many organizations do not clarify Vision. Patrick Lencioni[i] provides one of the best explanations of why core values used by many organizations are just not meaningful. Core values are usually admirable, beneficial, and generally desirable. Too often, core values do not describe the mindset and behaviours distinct to your organization and essential for your success.


Consider a core value of integrity. This is a value many organizations claim is core to what they do. Integrity is important. Many of us choose who we work or live with based on the presence or absence of integrity. It is clearly very important.


But a core value of integrity, as crucial as it is, does not give strategic insight. What does? Values that describe mindsets, attitudes, and behaviours critical to realizing your purpose and desired future. Some call these “Principles”. The name does not matter. The concept does.


For an example of principles, let us return to our property developer that provides families with affordable housing in vibrant communities. This organization would like its people to act with integrity. But when the company selects five or fewer values critical to fulfilling its purpose, integrity does not make the list.

What does make the list? Community. Flexible design. Health. Durability. Value.


Community speaks to the need to see homes as a part of a community and that create opportunity for social connection.


Flexible design speaks to the need for designs to serve competing and changing needs throughout our lives.


Health speaks to the importance of promoting personal and interpersonal health by making healthy living easy and by selecting materials and designing spaces proven to support wellness.


Durability speaks to a planning horizon of more than a lifetime, and the importance of fostering inter-generational opportunities for connection.


Value speaks to the importance of pursuing quality and functionality while remaining affordable.


These principles are needed from every person and the organization itself. They directly support the purpose and imagined future for this organization. They serve as its cultural DNA.


What other perspectives should form part of Vision?

There are two other perspectives you should explore to help you clarify Vision for your people: your offering and measurable strategic goals.

Offering

Your offering describes the products and services you offer and, more importantly, the problems your products and services solve for your customers or beneficiaries.


If you want to know more about offering, go no further than the Venture Capital pitch deck. When pitching to a VC, you need to convince them you will satisfy a customer need so compelling that they should take a risk on your organization and write a really big check. VCs have made it their business to differentiate between organizations that are able to describe and centre their business on a viable customer need and those who cannot. Successful organizations do things that matter for their customers or stakeholders. Every organization should be able to describe precisely what that is.

Measurable Strategic Goals

Measurable strategic goals describe what it means to fulfill your organization’s purpose and realize your Vision. Measurable means you can evaluate your performance and assess progress towards achieving your goal. Strategic means the goal should clarify what it means to achieve your purpose and successful future. These goals should be balanced, and they should not change year over year.


Clarifying your Vision

Your Vision is a guiding star for your business. Once you have explored each of these perspectives - Purpose, Successful Future, Principles, Offering and Strategic Goals - you should summarize your bright star in a few different ways.


Use concise statements for simplicity. Use call outs and definitions to unpack key concepts. Describe your strategic goals clearly and relate them to key performance indicators. This will become the backbone of your scorecard and an anchor for your expected results.


Finally, consider creating a Narrative Vision. A Narrative Vision explores critical aspects of your organization in detail from the perspective of witnessing them in the future. It can be a powerful tool to help clarify what success means for your organization and to illustrate the many faces of change that are hallmarks of your progress towards your Vision.


If you do these things, you will have a Vision that will motivate your people and clarify how their expected results are filled with purpose.


Creating Vision sounds like a lot of work. Is it really needed?

Think about Vision this way: You want a North Star for your organization. That is simple enough. But you want a North Star that everyone understands and can easily find.


Imagine you are standing with your team, looking for your North Star in the night sky. You might see something like this:


Find your company's North Star

Now, if you are someone who knows a bit about astronomy, you may be able to find the North Star in this admittedly terrible picture. Most people will not be able to find it by themselves. But you need those people to also see the North Star. How are you going to show them? “It’s the bright one, to the right of the other bright ones. It’s at the end of the little dipper…” Even if you can explain it to one person, you then need to do the impossible and explain it to everyone else.


Now, imagine you decide to spend some time and use the right tools to show everyone where the North Star is. Your night sky will instead look like this:


Help Everyone See your company's North Star

Which star is the North Star? The brightest one at the center of the celestial bullseye. My point is simply this: if you want to create a meaningful and inspiring strategic direction for your people, you need to do a lot more than write a mere vision statement. There are many tools available to you.


Use them.


Create a motivating strategic Vision in 5 x 1.5 hours sessions

We can help you work through five perspectives of Vision in 5 x 1.5 hour working sessions. We typically work through these five working sessions over five weeks. This gives leaders time to consider each session, the questions we will explore, and their answers to them. In five weeks, you will have worked through the most important aspects of your organization. In five weeks you will create a meaningful, motivating strategic Vision that will help you lead with strategy.


 

[i] “Make Your Values Mean Something” HBR July 2020, Patrick Lencioni https://hbr.org/2002/07/make-your-values-mean-something [ii] “Your Company’s Purpose is Not Its Vision, Mission or Values” Harvard Business Review Sept 03, 2014, Graham Kenney https://hbr.org/2014/09/your-companys-purpose-is-not-its-vision-mission-or-values

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