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  • Nick Smith

V is for Vision


'Where there is no vision, the people perish', according to Proverbs 29 v18. Alternative translations say 'the people cast off constraint', 'get out of hand', or are 'neglected and uncovered'. In any case, the sense is that the people are considerably better off with a vision than without one. Two blogs back, in T is for Transformation Troubles, Neil Finnie (quoting Seth Godin) highlighted that transformational leaders describe a future they would like to create and stay with that compelling picture throughout the transformation. As Neil points out, this is about vision - and, like the good books says, it's vision that provides a focus for people. In transformational change initiatives, vision is what engages people so that they want to make change happen, rather than merely accept (or not) change being done to them. So, in change, vision matters.

What, actually, is vision? We (Epion) talk about 'a future picture that generates present passion'. That means:

  • It describes, or visualises, (we might say 'envisions') a state, how things can and will be - not a set of objectives ...

  • ... and it's not how things are now.

  • It generates emotion - desire - for that future state ...

  • ... in the here and now.

Vision, then, will be something that resonates. If it's going to produce a feeling of 'yes, I want that', it's also got to produce a sense of 'yes, you get me' - being real about how things are now (good and bad) and thereby building trust in those casting the vision, and in the vision itself.

Let's make this practical, with some thoughts drawn from our experience about how to build and cast a change vision, and form(s) it might take. In no particular order:

  • Involve those impacted by change in the development of the vision - that way you're more likely to have a vision that resonates; you'll be kept honest regarding what's believable and how the vision will land; and you'll build some sense of ownership.

  • Place those impacted by the change into the envisioned future state, highlighting what's in it for them and their purpose in that future world - they'll then be able to identify with the future vision, and, again, you'll get greater resonance and buy-in.

  • Think about developing the vision in visual form (the clue is in the name) - rich pictures and animations can be good options. There will, inevitably, be plenty of words around the planned change, so pictures will help those whose orientation is more visual than verbal, and will almost certainly bring greater potential for compelling and engaging vision-casting.

  • Make sure your vision is a future picture, describing how things will be - outcomes that will have been achieved - not a set of goals or objectives. That way you're more likely to generate a 'pull', a desire for it, and ...

  • ... at the same time, show something of the journey to the vision, as well as the end state. Seeing identified points on the way actually happening will build trust that the vision will happen, and thereby strengthen commitment to it.

  • Be clear about what change messages are embedded in the vision - and ensure that all communications and broader engagement activities (including equipping / learning) align with them. That way the vision is reinforced, rather than diffused and lost.

  • Stick with the vision throughout the change initiative - recognising some evolution may be necessary. Continual restatement and repeated casting will, again, reinforce it, allow progress towards it to be evidenced, and thereby build trust in it and commitment to it - setting up a virtuous cycle.

So, having a change / transformation vision, the nature of that vision, how we develop it, and how we deploy it are all critical if we want to enable change, so that those impacted embrace and embed it. Why, then, is it that we so often see this foundational task being done in ways that just don't deliver what's needed? Any suggestions?

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