Your Company Needs a Big Vision. Here’s How to Design One

It’s never too late to design a vision for your business.  While it may be ideal to do this at inception, many companies stop at the mission statement, business model or business plan when launching.  Visions are different: they are about dreaming.  Due to the aspirational nature of visions, they keep you stretching and evolving.  Here are six steps to design a vision for your company.

1. Give Permission to Dream

This may seem obvious, but if leadership is not explicit in asking people to engage in the envisioning process, people will not participate in wholehearted ways  You can incentivize this by setting aside paid time for people to devote to this process.  You may even add a little joy by adding in fun competitions for the most far out ideas.  Start big and dreamy.  There will always be time and ways to cut back because of constraints in time, budget, talent or policy.

2. Backcast In Order to Forecast

You need clarity on where you have been in order to identify where you might go.  Take stock and map the journey – dare I say, the “hero’s journey”- you have been on as an organization.  Plot the characters, environmental context, tensions, cliff-hangers, conflicts, successes and resolutions to date.  Do this for your particular organization as well as for your sector.  Once you have an honest sense of historical perspective, create multiple possible scenarios- not just a singular one- of where your company might go.

3. Ask Frontline Staff

Your frontline staff are the best data gatherers. The receptionists, call center operators, and point of sale folks are the ones who are regularly interacting with end consumers.  Begin asking their opinions and observations on a regular basis so that when it comes time for your envisioning lab, you have considered a range of data points about are aware of what is on the pulse of consumers and their actual needs.  Making frontline staff more central to this process also gives you an honest understanding of what’s motivating your organization to adapt and evolve.  

4. Stop Benchmarking   

That’s right- stop looking only to what competitors in your sector are doing well or poorly. Instead, investigate other sectors and industries that are totally unrelated to your industry.  In design thinking we call this “lateral thinking”: cultivating the ability to make connections between seemingly disparate areas.  This is where you can gather the best inspiration.  For example, consider that the W Hotel was one of the first hotels to create the position of a Global Fashion Director.  They realized there was a lot for hospitality to learn from the fashion industry in terms of anticipating change, aesthetics and merchandising hotel properties.    Don’t keep drawing from the same well.  

5. Be Prepared to Get Messy

Creating a vision can be fun and energizing.  And it will also feel messy and ambiguous.  Don’t shy away from the moments when it gets confusing.  Factoring in diverse stakeholders or shaking up pre-established roles and legacy is hard work.  This is why it may make sense to bring in an external facilitator who can lend more objectivity to the process.   This will not be a linear process; there will be shades of grey.

6. Assign Actionable Tasks

Goals are dreams with deadlines.  Ultimately, to make the vision a reality you must have an actionable plan in place.  Break up what could seem like an insurmountable goal into baby steps: reverse engineer the process.  Create deadlines and budgets.  Identify people who may be emergent leaders to take on some of the tasks.  Regular check-ins are essential so that you are prepared to pivot and redefine stages.  With these steps in place you may also need to identify new job positions that don’t currently exist.  This is a good thing!  

With these steps in place you are on your way to creatively disrupting yourself and your company.

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