Vision: The Endpoint to Guide Your Organization and Your Goals

Vision: The Endpoint to Guide Your Organization and Your Goals

A gymnast at the Olympics, just before their performance, visualizes themselves landing every move—they walk through the routine in their mind and see the moment they’ve won the gold medal and step up to the podium. An artist sees in their mind what their next work ultimately looks like as they’re creating it. It may change and take shape as they put paint to canvas or hand to clay, but they have a picture in their imagination of what they’re working toward.

This is Vision—with a capital V. And it’s not just for Olympic athletes and the artists of the world. It’s for everyone, and it’s especially important for organizations and their teams.

An exercise in Vision

Does your organization have Vision already? Think about it: If you were to ask your team, “What is the most major ambition of the company?” how many divergent answers would you get?

When our organizations are small and the teams are tight, if we ask that question, we’re likely to hear similar answers. But when we expand our teams, and bring in more and more new people, answers to the same question may begin to vary wildly, with every person having a different impression of what the overarching goal of the company actually is. It gets muddled.

As we scale our companies, we need to think about scaling clarity. Everyone in the organization needs to understand the overall point so that, when they’re making decisions in their roles, those decisions are in pursuit of the goal. However, it’s not clarity on the individual decisions themselves that you need to scale exactly. It’s clarity of Vision.

What does Vision look like?

To define it, Vision is a clear, specific, and compelling picture of what the organization will look like at a particular time in the future, including a few key metrics that define success. It is an image for how we want the business to look, what impact we want it to have on the world, what type of culture it has, and even its revenue and profit. It is a destination.

A clear vision sets limits to potential strategy and helps define what’s inside or outside the organization’s bounds. But those bounds aren’t static: Vision can be revisited annually to assess new market opportunities, continuously ensure the organization is on the right track, and build motivation and realignment across the enterprise.

Why is having Vision important?

Vision is an effective tool in that it creates a focal point and a common sense of direction company-wide. When everyone is clear on what the Vision is, true north is easy to find no matter whether you’re in the C-suite, managing thousands of employees, or an individual contributor on the ground floor. But Vision is greater than simply a sense of direction and focus; it gets at the heart of “something bigger.” And that something bigger is what can engage people—employees, executives, and sometimes customers—on an emotional level. If people relate to and engage with the Vision, they develop a sense of ownership for their part in accomplishing that Vision along with the motivation to see it through. In that sense, it also puts into relief the people who are right for the job. If someone can’t get behind the Vision, they’re not going to effectively bring it to the finish line.

On a more practical level, as mentioned above, Vision streamlines decision-making. Everyday micro-decisions have an easy check-and-balance when placed against the greater Vision. Similarly, everyday thinking automatically gets elevated to a higher level. It also helps make decisions about new opportunities: Does this bring us closer to our vision? Do we still have the right vision? Ultimately, you can build a more transparent enterprise, with a well-defined rubric for choices and decisions, because everyone is clear about what’s most crucial and consequential.

What might teams look like without Vision?

Looking at the list of things that having Vision improves might make us wary to wade through the list of what not having it can do. Without Vision, organizations lack a focal point, a top-of-the-mountain goal toward which to drive every action and against which to measure and match every decision and outcome. Simple decisions end up taking too long, and even simpler issues get unnecessarily escalated to “big decisions” involving a higher-up. Teams can clash frequently, grow apathetic, gossip, and focus on the wrong things. Instead of having a higher goal to endorse, build camaraderie around, and prioritize against, team members often fulfill their own agendas and tend to their own problems—specific to their department, teams, and individual egos—instead of the ones facing the entire company.

In essence, the work loses connection. It becomes all about execution, and too few people can articulate why the work matters and what direction we’re moving in—because without Vision, no one knows. We literally cannot see what is ahead.

How to create Vision

Founders and co-founders may know what their Vision is, or they may have their own separate Visions in mind (knowingly or not). Clarifying and communicating Vision is one of the most important responsibilities of a CEO. But to uncover exactly where we want to go requires constructive groupthink, deep reflection, and discussion at the organizational level.

That typically means asking, contemplating, and answering many questions:

  • What is the problem we’re really trying to solve?
  • How should the world look if we could have unlimited resources to make it so?
  • If we could only impact the world in one way, what would it be?
  • What will the world look like if we’re successful in our goals?
  • What could we be the best-in-the-world at doing?
  • What is the true benefit our customers receive from us?
  • How are we creating value? And what value do we want to create?

As you think of these questions, use imagery to draw out your answers and develop your Vision. Set a time frame: Imagine you’re 10, 20, or even 30 years into the future. Imagine you’re already wildly successful. Then, ask yourself questions like:

  • Whose lives have been touched by your work?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What is the most significant breakthrough that completely transformed the organization?
  • Who are your allies and what partnerships have you forged?
  • Who has a seat at the table with you?

Drawing these out can help transfer the image we have in our mind onto paper and further help us communicate it to others.

Roll the globe and point

Even with all of that, it can be challenging at times, especially in early-stage organizations, to know the ultimate Vision. In the oft-quoted scene between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll wrote:

[Alice asks,] “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if only you walk long enough.”

Vision is the “somewhere” that declares, “We will walk this way but not this way.” But this is easier when we can clearly see the horizon, when we have a map and a compass. It’s all about placing the “X” on the treasure map. When we don’t, it makes more sense to simply begin walking—anywhere.

Early-stage companies may struggle with the balance between execution and strategy, and at that point in the game, execution is everything. But don’t get stuck there. Pick a destination, and start walking toward it. At some point along the way, through the act of execution, you’ll learn and test against that determined endpoint, and you can adjust and pivot from there.

Your organization’s heart and soul

To quote another great (but leave the world of fantasy), in Trillion Dollar Coach, authors Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle write about the importance of Vision as seen, shared, and taught by prominent executive coach Bill Campbell. To Campbell, “Vision is an important role. Heart and soul matter. Often that is embodied in the founder, but many other people may also embody what the company stands for, its mission and spirit. They don’t show up on a balance sheet, income statement, or org chart, but they are very valuable.”

Vision, mission, and spirit certainly won’t show up in the numbers in your charts. But without them, your employees won’t show up in meaningful ways at work. You need their hearts and souls to make an impact, and Vision helps activate those hearts and souls.

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