Formulating a Vision

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

Jonathan Swift

A vision serves a very important function in establishing a standard of excellence. A good vision is all about excellence. The right vision means something to everyone in the organisation if they can see what they do contributes to that vision. It motivates them to make the effort. The right vision will take an organisation out of the present and look to the future, looking ahead at least to the next decade. A vision involves thinking about the future. It doesn’t exist in the present and may or may not be reached in the future. It shows that the desirable future is achievable even though it may be challenging. It also implies that the envisioned future is necessary for the vitality of the organisation.

Kouzes and Posner (1987) described four attributes of vision: Visions are future-oriented; visions describe the future in images or mental pictures; visions are about possibilities, not just probabilities and visions explain what is unique about the organization. The right vision for an organization, one that is a realistic, credible and offers an attractive future for the organisation attracts commitment and energizes people; the right vision creates meaning in workers’ lives; the right vision establishes a standard of excellence and the right vision bridges the present and the future (Nanus, 1992).

Similarly, Malphurs (1999) offers seven purposes that a vision statement can accomplish:

  • Encourages unity.
  • Creates energy.
  • Provides purpose.
  • Fosters risk taking.
  • Enhances leadership.
  • Promotes excellence.

Visions are long-term and require constancy of purpose, consistent leadership, and skilled, sustained effort over time. Leaders need to keep the short term in mind, whilst they pursue a longer-term vision.The key task for leaders is to formulate the vision, communicate and implement it.

To formulate a vision for an organization, you first must understand it.Learn everything you can about the organization: what its mission and purpose are, what value it provides to society, what the character of the industry is, what institutional framework the organization operates in, what the organization’s position is within that framework, what it takes for the organization to succeed, who the critical stakeholders are, both inside and outside the organization, and what their interests and expectations are. The next step would be to assess the current direction and momentum of the organisation by asking Does the organization have a clearly stated vision? What is the organization’s current direction? Do the key leaders of the organization know where the organization is headed and agree on the direction? Do the organization’s structures, processes, personnel, incentives, and information systems support the current direction? The vision is a desirable future for the organization. To craft that vision you need to think about what the organization’s future environment may look like by making informed estimates by categorizing future developments in the environment which might affect your vision; listing future expectations and determining which of these expectations is most likely to occur. Having determined the expectations most likely to occur, and those with the most impact on your vision, combine those expectations into a few brief scenarios to include the range of possible futures you anticipate. The final vision should be the one which best meets the criteria of a good vision, is compatible with the organization’s culture and values, and applies to a broad range of alternative scenarios (possible futures).

Formulating the vision is only the first step; implementing the vision is much harder, but must follow if the vision is going to have any effect on the organization. The key is to communicate the vision through multiple means. For the vision to have credibility, leaders must not only say they believe in the vision; they must demonstrate that they do through their decisions and their actions (Nanus, 1992).